Seattle splits from Wells Fargo over Dakota Access pipeline

Markets Associated Press

Seattle leaders voted to cut ties with banking giant Wells Fargo over its role as a lender to the Dakota Access pipeline project as well as other business practices.

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The crowd erupted in cheers Tuesday and chanted "water is life" when the City Council unanimously passed the measure, which directs officials to end the city's contract with the San Francisco-based bank once it expires in 2018 and not to make new investments in Wells Fargo securities for three years.

"The example that we have set today can become a beacon of hope" for activists across the country, said council member Kshama Sawant, who co-sponsored the measure.

It came the same day that the Army told Congress that it will allow the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, completing the disputed four-state project. The stretch is the final big chunk of work on the 1,200-mile pipeline that would carry North Dakota oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.

The Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation is just downstream from the pipeline's crossing, fears a leak would pollute the tribe's drinking water. The tribe has led protests that drew hundreds and at times thousands of people who dubbed themselves "water protectors" to an encampment near the crossing.

Wells Fargo has said it is one of 17 involved in financing the pipeline and that it is obligated by carry out its credit agreement. The bank is providing $120 million of the $2.5 billion.

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"While we are disappointed that the city has decided to end our 18-year relationship, we stand ready to support Seattle with its financial services needs in the future," said Tim Brown, Wells Fargo middle market banking regional manager.

Tribal members urged the Seattle council to send a broader message to oppose the pipeline and stand with indigenous people.

"You have been a city setting the example to the world, and I look to you to do that now," said Olivia One Feather of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. "When big cities such as this do the right thing, it sparks hope in the world."

Environmental activists across the country have called on a number of banks to stop financing the construction of the oil pipeline as well as on individuals to pull their money out of those banks.

Wells Fargo had managed more than $3 billion of Seattle's operating account, processing everything from payroll and vendor payments to revenue collected from city business taxes to city fines.

The measure passed Tuesday calls out Wells Fargo for a number of enforcement orders issued against it in recent years. Regulators fined the bank $185 million after employees opened millions of customer accounts fraudulently to meet sales goals.

In the wake of that scandal, California and Illinois announced they would suspend some business relationships with the bank. Also in response, Seattle officials last October ended negotiations with Wells Fargo over a $100 million bond deal for the city's electric utility.

Some who spoke Tuesday urged the council to look for a nonprofit bank, credit union or other financial institution that aligns with the city's social values when it seeks to replace Wells Fargo.

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Associated Press writers Manuel Valdes in Seattle and Blake Nicholson in Bismarck, North Dakota, contributed to this report.