Last month the Seattle City Council made national news when it divested $3 billion worth of business with Wells Fargo over its failure to comply with fair business practices. (Its involvement with the Dakota Access Pipeline was just icing on the cake.) Now activists are calling on the city to cut off ties to any banks doing business with the Keystone XL Pipeline.
More than 100 citizens attended the council meeting on Monday, March 27, when city council member Kshama Sawant introduced new legislation that would cut off city contracts to any financial institutions supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline. Members of the local 350 Seattle environmental group drafted the resolution over the weekend after president Donald Trump supported the pipeline Friday. Trump granted a permit to TransCanada to build the pipeline, reversing former president Barack Obama's decision.
"For the city council to begin taking steps towards this is timely and important to building a movement against the Keystone XL Pipeline in particular, but the larger agenda is against Trump [and the] billionaire cause," Sawant said. "We know that when we have social justice movements on one front, it feeds energy into other fronts.... I think it's important for us to take a stand."
The activists' goal is to prevent TransCanada from receiving project-level loans, which account for the majority of its pipeline funding, and many said they were "disappointed" the council didn't act on the resolution right away. The council will likely vote on it next week. Council member Sally Bagshaw raised concerns about the rush and asked that they wait two weeks since she'll be gone Monday.
The resolution would require the city's Department of Finance and Administrative Services to avoid contracting with any institutions that provide the pipeline with project-level loans or other financial services. Bagshaw expressed concern that by cutting off ties to any big banks, the city wouldn't have a viable banking option to conduct essential services.
Council member Rob Johnson said he supports the efforts to oppose the pipeline but wants to make sure the policy doesn't have "unintended consequences" for the city's 10,000 employees. Council members didn't get a copy of the legislation until about 30 minutes before the briefing, and he said he's concerned the broad language "would put us in a difficult position with finding a bank that could handle the volume of our payroll and our pension fund."
"I think that that's the goal, is to make sure that we act on this in a quick manner but not in a way that affects our pension fund or current banking practices for payroll," Johnson said. "That's the balancing act that we're trying to walk."
Many of the activists—including Nikkita Oliver, who is running against Ed Murray—alluded to the Seattle mayor's lack of support for the resolution, but Seattle mayor's office spokesman Benton Strong said the comments were unfounded. He said the mayor will hold off on making comments until next week, but that Murray's position on the pipeline has been very clear.
"I don't know where that came from," Strong said. "The mayor has previously spoken against the Keystone pipeline repeatedly."
Here are the 18 financial institutions listed in the resolution that have so far provided financial support to TransCanada:
-Bank of Montreal
-Bank of Tokyo
-JP Morgan Chase
-Royal Bank of Canada
-Sumimoto Mitsui Banking Corporation
Updated March 28, 2017, at 5:03pm. This post contains new quotes from council member Rob Johnson.
Updated March 30, 2017, at 5:29pm. This post corrects the reason council divested from Wells Fargo and adds that Murray's challenger spoke.