Divestiture could help halt Dakota Access pipeline

TAKING A STAND: Diane DeWitt, left, and Cathy Holt participate in an Asheville protest against the Dakota Access pipeline. In her commentary below, Holt suggests another form of protest: Moving money out of the big banks that are financing the pipeline.


A couple of months ago, I spent a week in Standing Rock protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, and the experience was a kind of initiation for me: I came home from North Dakota determined to make a difference locally. On a cold, drizzly Dec. 4, after thousands of veterans had gone to Standing Rock in solidarity, more than 100 people rallied in Asheville. We marched to four banks, with Suzannah Park leading chants like “Water is life!” and “Defend the sacred!”

If you’ve ever asked yourself “What can I do to make a difference?” this is a great place to start.

The new administration in Washington has made it pretty clear that it’s all for big banks, oil, fracking and the Dakota Access pipeline. On Jan. 24, President Trump signed a series of executive memorandums aimed at expediting Dakota Access and other oil pipelines. And on Feb. 7, in response to Trump’s action, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reversed its earlier decision, approving an easement needed to complete the pipeline. Those seeking to profit from extracting the dirtiest of fuels are using their money and power to try to lock in a fossil fuel infrastructure, with no regard for cataclysmic climate change.

But we don’t have to let them. Starting right here in Asheville, we can derail those plans by moving our money out of the big banks that are financing the pipeline!

The movement to divest from South Africa helped bring down apartheid. Student organizing led hundreds of colleges and universities to divest, with cities, counties and states following their lead. Now, the youth of Standing Rock are asking people across the country to divest from the banks that fund the pipeline.

Here in Asheville, there are branches of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, SunTrust, TD, PNC, Citibank and UBS. Collectively, these giant banks have over $2 billion invested in the project, according to the activist group Food & Water Watch.

Water is sacred to all indigenous people, who have typically lived in harmony and connection with the elements. They see clearly that without clean water, there is no life for us, our children or the other species with whom we share this earth. We need to listen to them and stop the pollution and desecration of our water.

Key issues

I believe the three greatest issues of my lifetime are:

  1. Clean water – defending it as a sacred birthright for all, and protecting what’s left of it.
  2. Indigenous rights – sovereignty over their own lands and water.
  3. Preventing climate catastrophe – keeping as much fossil fuel in the ground as possible.
Cathy Holt
Cathy Holt

The Dakota Access pipeline’s planned route goes under Lake Oahe, a portion of the Missouri River that is the Standing Rock Sioux’s sole source of drinking water. Together with their allies, indigenous people from over 300 tribes have designated themselves Water Protectors. “Water is Life!” proclaims many a banner. And it’s not just the Lakota either — the Missouri River provides water for 17 million people!

How likely is it that the Dakota Access pipeline would leak? In 2016 alone, multiple U.S. pipeline leaks spilled nearly 300,000 gallons of crude oil and 331,000 gallons of gasoline, Wikipedia reports — and those are only the documented cases. Even when the Corps of Engineers denied the easement needed to run the pipeline under Lake Oahe, Energy Transfer Partners publicly stated its intention to complete the project without changing the route.

Meanwhile, the pipeline and the violence used to construct it are only the latest chapter in 500 years of colonial oppression of native people, the land’s original inhabitants. During my week in Standing Rock, respected elders led prayers, and drumming and chanting frequently filled the air. Despite the brutal response to the demonstrators — dogs, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons and concussion grenades — tribal leaders emphasized respect and peace toward the police.

The website defunddapl.org lists 38 banks as pipeline funders; some are foreign but have branches in the U.S. The site lays out simple steps to close an account while making a public statement, and it tallies the funds that have been reported as divested so far. As of Feb. 9, that total stood at more than $60 million. And the same day the Corps of Engineers approved the easement, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to withdraw more than $3 billion from Wells Fargo to protest its funding of the pipeline, among other concerns.

Pretty words, ugly deeds

A lot of people lack a clear understanding of how banks invest their money. I was surprised to see how many of the folks attending fundraisers for Standing Rock said they had accounts with Wells Fargo or Bank of America. Aghast to learn that their money was funding the pipeline, however, many of them promised to close those accounts.

As for-profit institutions, the big banks try to maximize gains for their shareholders. And their pretty words about human rights contrast starkly with the violence inflicted on the Water Protectors.

TD Bank spokesperson Judith Schmidt, for example, said: “TD has heard concerns from the community about DAPL and will continue to advocate that Energy Transfer Partners engage in constructive dialogue and work toward a resolution with community members, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. TD played an active role in helping to secure an independent human rights expert to conduct a review on behalf of the lenders and advise on improvements ETP and Sunoco Logistics can make to their social policies and procedures moving forward.”

Wells Fargo’s Demond Hunter said, “Wells Fargo is committed to environmental sustainability and human rights, but we must fulfill our legal obligation to serve the financial needs of our customers under the credit agreement.” SunTrust and Bank of America did not return my calls requesting an interview or comment.

A better way

Wouldn’t you rather have your money help the local economy and meet genuine social needs? The nonprofit Self-Help Credit Union, for example, makes loans to charter schools and small, local businesses; it promotes things like affordable housing and child care centers. Ellen Schloemer, the director of marketing and communication, says that Self-Help’s interest rates are comparable to those offered by big commercial banks, and like them, the nonprofit issues credit cards and belongs to the CashPoints network. Unlike those commercial banks, however, credit unions are membership-owned, and any profits are reinvested in the organization. Other local options include the Mountain Credit Union and Telco Community Credit Union.

Last September, Asheville City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the rights of all indigenous peoples, including the Cherokee and Standing Rock Sioux, to self-determination, environmental justice and respect for their ancestral lands, sacred places and water.

Council member Cecil Bothwell is asking the city to divest from banks that fund the pipeline. The Davis, Calif., City Council just voted to divest about $124 million from Wells Fargo, and other cities across the country are considering following suit.

As a few of us stood outside Wells Fargo Bank in late December, politely inviting people to move their money elsewhere, a sympathetic employee came out and told us that seven people had closed their accounts in less than a week! A pregnant woman at the ATM spoke regretfully of having a credit card to pay off before she could divest. “I want my baby to grow up in a world without these fossil fuels!” she declared.

Each person who closes an account is sending an unmistakable message to the banks. It’s not just the dollar amount being withdrawn — it’s the loss of legitimacy that threatens the stranglehold the big banks have enjoyed for so long. Time is short to prevent the completion of the pipeline, so if you have an account with any of the above-listed banks, please MOVE YOUR MONEY NOW!

Longtime environmental activist Cathy Holt (cathyfholt@gmail.com) works with Defund DAPL, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Creation Care Alliance and Asheville TimeBank. Besides coaching in communication and personal resilience (HeartMath), she teaches the Connection Practice.


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About Cathy Holt
Cathy Holt is director of HeartSpeak: Listening & Speaking from the Heart (www.heartspeakpeace.com). She teaches classes in the Connection Practice and provides coaching in HeartMath for personal resilience. She is also a founding member of Asheville TimeBank and the Green Grannies.

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26 thoughts on “Divestiture could help halt Dakota Access pipeline

  1. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    The biggest threat to the Missouri River has been the protesters themselves. They were so concerned about the environment that they left the equivalent of 6 months of trash for a town of 7000 people in the flood plain where they were camped. It will cost authorities approx $250,000 to clean up the mess, and they are rushing to get it done before spring flooding washes the abandoned debris (buildings, tents, sleeping bags, excrement, etc) into the river.

    And FWIW, regulations require that the pipeline be put 24 feet under the lake. The pipeline company decided to put it 100′ deep. Also, the water intake for the reservation is being moved 40 miles downstream (if not done so already). This relocation has nothing to do with the pipeline; it was planned years earlier due to the existing intake’s end-of-life.

    It’s pointless to keep whining about this pipeline. It’s 99+% complete and the go-ahead has been given for the final 1.5 mile section under the river. The oil is getting transported to market anyways via more hazardous trains, so this whole protest has been an exercise in futility.

    • Richard B.

      Ahh, FACTS!! Thank you Snowflake, this is very interesting information that is relevant, very relevant, to the discussion.

      I had read about the terrible insult to the local Dakota Native Americans and environmentally damaging trash that some protesters, not all, left behind, which I found puzzling, given they were posing as dedicated environmentalists.

      As an aside, I have a question for the mother to be who said she was regretful that she could not pull her funds out of the Wells Fargo Bank, because “I want my baby to grow up in a world without these fossil fuels!”. The question is: are you okay with raising your child without refrigeration, heat, ability to heat bottles and prepare food, – without the ability to get in your car to make doctor appointments or shop?
      I do believe that all rational and informed citizens are for continued research and investment in alternative energy sources, which have been on-going for decades, but still are not at the stage where we could do without fossil fuels (without untenable, and for most, unbearable life style changes).

      Hopefully, if we continue to support these efforts, most of them led by current large fossil fuel producers, your child’s children may see their energy needs largely met by sources such as nuclear, wind, solar, and as yet undiscovered energy sources.

  2. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    ” Despite the brutal response to the demonstrators — dogs, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons and concussion grenades — tribal leaders emphasized respect and peace toward the police.”

    This is laughable and shows what an alternate reality these people live in. Virtually all of the violence was committed by the protesters – throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails and feces at police; vandalized equipment (millions of dollars in damage); Indians charging a police line on horseback and stopping inches away from it; a shooting; a bombing; vehicles set on fire that damaged a bridge.

    The police said they didn’t use concussion grenades and don’t even have them. That story got started when a woman had her arm nearly blown off, and the protesters blamed it on the police. What they don’t tell you is that the police observed a woman and several men crawling underneath a truck that had previously been burned, an explosion occurred there, and then they ran off. Later a woman showed up at the hospital with an explosion injury to her arm. A ruptured, burned propane canister was recovered from the scene (I saw pictures).

  3. The pipeline doesn’t go through Indian land. In fact, it will join 7 others that already go under the Missouri River including one that is actually upstream from the reservation.

    The oil is coming out of the ground folks, irrespective of whether the pipeline is finished. The only question is whether it will be transported via the safest means, a pipeline, or via more risky trucks and trains.

    • Richard B.

      Thus far, comments on this article have both informative and civil.
      Hopefully, those who support the continued stand off, some who I know personally and are good people, will respond in kind.

      I sincerely would like to read thoughtful feedback in retort to the arguments and statements above.
      It would be a welcome dialogue from the liberal position, something that seems to have gone away of late.

      • The Real World

        Richard, you are asking for respect, reasonableness and factual, linear thinking. Therefore, it is unlikely that you will get what you request.

        People who claim tolerance, open-mindedness and diversity but instead are okay with staged explosions, massive property damage and leaving huge amounts of garbage as someone else’s problem and expense aren’t going to be reasonable. They are irrational radicals; many of whom have likely been transported there from other geographies and paid for the “efforts”. You might want to do some digging to see who is organizing and paying these people. (Hint: the same entities and their deep-pocketed benefactor that funded a substantial number of the riots and protests of the last several years all over the USA).

        • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

          A lot of this particular event was crowd funded. The suckers who sent them money need to watch the videos of all the tents, sleeping bags, folding chairs and other stuff being scooped up by front-end loaders and hauled to the dump. Most of the protesters fled the scene when minus zero weather set in for weeks, and the chairman of Standing Rock was so impressed with the trouble and environmental damage they caused, he told them not to come back.

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      The upstream pipeline runs under the river in the Fort Berkhold Reservation. The northern part of DAPL runs through Berkhold, but they have no problem with it because 1/3 of Bakken oil comes from their land. Standing Rock’s not getting anything from the oil boom.

      The DAPL crosses underneath the river near Standing Rock where an existing natural gas pipeline already exists, and it closely follows that pipeline north of Standing Rock..That’s probably why they chose that route.

  4. As a point of clarification, the City is prohibited from putting its reserves in a credit union because credit unions are not insured by the FDIC. A qualifying bank must be FDIC insured, deposit a big chunk of change in escrow with the NC State Treasurer, and have a bricks and mortar presence in the state. Wells Fargo has about a 5 percent stake in DAPL, and it appears that most of the other potentially qualified banks in NC are also part of the consortium. So it isn’t as simple as just getting out of WF. Brian Haynes and I have been looking into “green banking” – trying to figure out if there is a socially responsible bank in NC that qualifies, because it would hardly make sense for the city to pull out of one complicit entity just to park the money in another. On a personal level I would urge everyone to move their money to a local credit union. (Credit unions are insured, by the way, just not through the FDIC.)

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      Apart from virtue signaling, why do you promote Asheville’s official endorsement of the DAPL protest?

      • Responsible scientists have indicated we need to leave as much oil in the ground as possible if we are going to meaningfully address climate change. Anything we can do to reduce the extraction and combustion of oil, gas and coal is a plus for the future of humanity. If we don’t keep it in the ground we are essentially ending the human experiment. Our children or their children will be the last generation. It is that simple.

        • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

          Well that verifies what I’ve concluded and what the author of this post also said in so many words: the DAPL protest is really an anti- oil protest. That seems quite counter-productive and pointless, though, because the oil is already being shipped to market without the pipeline, and its absence would just increase more hazardous and costly train/truck traffic and Warren Buffet’s profits (the sole owner of the railroad).

          • Huhsure

            And out comes the “conspiracy nut” signalling.

            “Warren Buffet’s profits.” Jesus.

    • Is their any topic that this foo doesn’t think he’s an expert? If anyone with his “credentials” were running his mouth about where people should do their banking he’d pass a law that it would be illegal.

      If Bothwell, suggests moving your money, you know Wells Fargo is the place to be.

      • I don’t claim to be an expert. What I’ve offered is what I have learned concerning state law, banking regulations and the position of banks in our state. If you like WF, more power to you. Personally I have never banked with them, but I can’t help but notice the extreme violations of trust that the bank has permitted (and now perhaps corrected) with its customers. That’s quite apart from the DAPL connection.

          • After seven years on Council, putting in around 20 hours a week, I am pretty well versed about City issues. That doesn’t mean I’m not a fool, but it does mean I have a pretty good grounding in the issues and the regulations that affect them. I try to be fairly clear about the divide between the facts and my views. It is true, for example, that the City cannot put its money into a credit union or a bank that isn’t certified for municipal use by the NC State Treasurer. It is my opinion than moving the City’s money from one bank invested in DAPL to another also invested in DAPL is pointless.

      • Big Al

        As difficult as I find it to agree with Bothwell on anything, even a broken clock is right twice a day and this is one of those times.

        I am fortunate that I qualified for membership in a very large CU through a familial connection, but many do not have the option to join a CU, or are limited to membership in a very small one.

        My mortgage was with WF and their service was consistently excellent. This is consistent with a recent article in The Economist magazine that heralded WF’s success at thriving by offering excellent customer service at all economic levels in an era when so many big banks only bother offering good service to their largest account holders.

        For those who do not qualify for CU membership, I would recommend WF for their service and leave the “personal is political” BS to the hippies, hipsters and hacks.

  5. Richard B.

    Your comment of 20 hours was both informational and helpful.
    The comment above does not advance the dialogue, but weakens your valid input.
    Just try to avoid the name calling.

    Personal opinions are fine, as is Mr. Bothwell’s, so long as he pointedly states that it does not represent the
    City of Asheville’s position and he is not intending to. His clarification of the mention of him in the article is welcome and necessary.
    Sort of like Kellyanne’s mistake of unintentionally violating White House ethics by making a supportive comment of a private business, which happened to be owned by the President’s daughter.

    Obama’s administration was rife with such violations, most prominently Hillary’s connection to the Clinton fund, for which the Administration never did take her to task, sweeping it under the rug, unlike this Administration, with the President personally admonishing Ms. Conway.
    Try to do so without the name calling.

    • Richard B.

      NOTE: My comment above was in reply to Ashe Villager of 5 hours ago where Mr. Bothwell was called a fool.

  6. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    Here’s some more interesting facts. Bakken crude is highly volatile. Opposing DAPL ensures more hazardous train transport through more populated areas. Pipelines are typically routed away from population centers. The unintended bad consequences of good intentions.

    “The application of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies have caused a boom in Bakken oil production since 2000. By the end of 2010, oil production rates had reached 458,000 barrels (72,800 m3) per day, thereby outstripping the pipeline capacity to ship oil out of the Bakken.[9][10] There is some controversy over the safety of shipping this crude oil by rail due to its volatility.[11]

    This was illustrated by the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, in which a unit train carrying 77 tank cars full of highly volatile Bakken oil through Quebec from North Dakota to the Irving Oil Refinery in New Brunswick derailed and exploded in the town centre of Lac-Mégantic. It destroyed 30 buildings (half the downtown core) and killed 47 people.[12] The explosion was estimated to have a 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) blast radius.[13]”

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      btw, a 1 km blast radius means the blast area was 2 km (1.2 miles) in diameter.

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