It’s Time for DAPL Funders to Decide Which Side of History They Want to Be On

by Mary Sweeters

February 7, 2017

Today, the Army Corps of Engineers said that it will grant the easement for Energy Transfer Partners to drill under Lake Oahe and complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s time for funders like Citibank to pick a side — do they stand for corporate plunder or human rights and environmental protection?

Citibank DAPL Protest in DC

Activists rally outside Citibank's Washington, DC branch.

UPDATE February 8, 2017: Swedish financier Nordea has excluded three companies building the Dakota Access Pipeline from its investments in direct response to their decision to proceed with construction. 

Today, the Trump administration has once again put corporate profits above Indigenous sovereignty, our climate, and the millions of people worldwide who have called for a halt on the Dakota Access Pipeline. This decision by the Army Corps of Engineers comes in blatant disregard for the Environmental Impact Statement process called for by the Standing Rock Tribe and the Army Corps itself in December.

Indigenous leaders in the region have pledged to continue their resistance — and people around the world will surely stand with them in solidarity.

But even before the easement decision reinvigorated the global movement to stop the pipeline, the banks backing the project were becoming increasingly concerned. And they should be.

It is time for the financial institutions funding this dangerous project to pick a side.

They can either stand with Trump and his oil industry cronies, or they can stand on the side of human rights, Indigenous sovereignty, and climate protection.

There are more than 30 financial institutions banking on the Dakota Access pipeline. Seventeen of those have loaned more than $2.5 billion to Dakota Access for the construction of the pipeline, underwritten by Citibank. Most recently, Credit Suisse financed an additional $850 million loan to the parent company of Dakota Access, Energy Transfer Equities.  

People like you are rightly putting these banks on notice for their role in supporting a project that violates Indigenous rights and threatens our climate.

Banks have gotten an earful about …

The approval process for the pipeline, which was rushed, lacked of proper government-to-government consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and ignored the warnings of multiple government agencies. It was even revealed that the original plans included rerouting the pipeline from its original path near Bismarck, North Dakota over concerns about the threat of a spill to the city’s water supply.

Standing Rock chairman David Armchambault II wrote an essay for the New York Times explaining how the tribe was shut out of the planning process from the beginning.

The militarized police response, in which rubber bullets, tear gas, police dogs, water cannons, concussion grenades, and other extreme measures were taken against unarmed, peaceful water protectors. More than 600 people have been arrested at Standing Rock, roughly 100 were treated for hypothermia after being targeted by water cannons in sub-zero weather, and one person lost her arm after being hit by a flash grenade. Conditions grew severe enough to merit a statement from the United Nations denouncing the use of force.

The level of financial risk and integrity of the project, which the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) ranked as highly risky, even veering toward stranded asset status, in November. This is in part due to the reckless behavior of project lead Energy Transfer Partners — which can be fairly described as a hot mess of a company. Energy Transfer has a long history of fast-tracking projects without regard for local communities and currently holds significantly more debt than equity. Its debt is high enough that Moody’s Investor Service rated it a negative outlook in June 2016.    

Trump’s conspicuous connections to the project, which include $100,000 in campaign donations from Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren and investments in Energy Transfer Partners. And at one point, financial records show Trump had invested more than $1 million in Energy Transfer and other companies profiting from the pipeline. He claims to have divested, but has released no records to prove that claim, nor have his advisers. Harold Hamm, a top Trump energy adviser, is the CEO of the company whose oil would flow through the pipeline once completed.

Defund DAPL

The case is clearly made, and public pressure on banks is mounting, with $55 million divested by customers closing their accounts in solidarity with Standing Rock and hundreds of thousands of people calling on the banks to pull their funding.

Still, very few financial institutions — even those with clear corporate policies against funding projects that violate human rights and environmental standards — have done anything in response. The ones that have — including Wells Fargo, Citibank, Mizuho, DNB, Nordea, ING, and ABN Amro — need to start walking their talk.

Today’s move from the Trump administration, one that seems hell bent on putting fossil fuels on life support at every turn, comes as no surprise. But the financial institutions funding the project have a role to play, a moral obligation, and their own policies to abide in breaking ties from this project.

Unless, of course, they want to be remembered as the company that disregarded Indigenous sovereignty, threatened the water supply for millions, and sped up catastrophic climate change.

Mary Sweeters

By Mary Sweeters

Mary Sweeters is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace USA. She works to fight the undue influence of the oil industry in solidarity with communities affected by oil extraction, pollution, and climate change, and to advocate for a just transition to a clean energy economy. She is from Sonoma, California.

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