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Mayor lends support to anti-DAPL protests, changing banks

SANTA FE, N.M. — During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, and in response to nearly 20 people who during a public comment period urged the city abandon its banking relationship with Wells Fargo Bank because of its part in financing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales signaled with a tweet the city might do just that.

“Great to hear tonight from so many citizens passionate about #NoDAPL and asking city to find a new bank,” he tweeted. “I share concerns, will push for broader bidding process this yr, incl. local options. We can/should find better ways to manage funds.”

He said so much verbally after public comment ended, telling the protesters their concerns had been heard.

“I fully anticipate there will be a rebid in the near future,” said Gonzales, who participated in a DAPL protest march in Santa Fe last month.

The city’s four-year contract with Wells Fargo Bank – to which the city pays the bank about $364,000 annually for financial services – concludes at the end of 2017, though either party could terminate the agreement at least 60 days prior to that date.

Earlier Wednesday, the protesters demonstrated at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Paseo de Peralta near the Wells Fargo Bank, urging the bank’s customers to close their accounts and take their money elsewhere.

Wells Fargo banks across the country have been targeted by DAPL protesters because the bank has loaned close to $500 million for the pipeline’s construction. Still, that represents only about 5 percent of the overall cost.

Mike English, a spokesman for Wells Fargo banks in New Mexico and El Paso, said Thursday the bank has heard the protesters, too.

“At Wells Fargo, we understand the social and environmental concerns associated with a project like DAPL,” he said in an emailed statement. “We’re committed to environmental sustainability and human rights as a company. We’re listening to the protesters, and we remain focused on our obligation to serve all our customers’ financial needs.”

According to Wells Fargo, bank-owned projects produced 10 percent of all solar and wind energy generated in the U.S. in 2015, and have invested more than $52 billion in environmentally sustainable businesses since 2012.

Being built by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.78 billion project designed to transport crude oil 1,172 miles from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota to storage tanks in southern Illinois, where it is distributed by other means.

Last spring, “water protectors,” as they call themselves, then mostly indigenous people, established a camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation near where the pipeline was designed to cross the Missouri River. They say the pipeline crosses land bestowed on them by the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, threatened their drinking water, and would damage and destroy sites of religious and cultural significance. By the fall, thousands of people of all colors had assembled at three camps in the area where sometimes violent confrontations with law enforcement and security guards led to the arrest of close to 500 demonstrators.

The standoff came to a temporary end on Dec. 4 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement that would have allowed the pipeline to be dug underneath Lake Oahe until an environmental impact study was conducted to determine alternative routes. For many, the demonstration also became a protest about tribal sovereignty, the use of fossil fuels, human rights, and corporate control and greed. “Do business with those who support clean energy, not dirty oil,” Rae Domenico told the council.

“We have an opportunity to do the right thing and divest from a company that is denigrating people,” Sarah Falion said.

In one of a series of Santa Fe protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, John Otter waves to passersby outside the Bank of America branch at St. Francis Drive and Paseo de Peralta. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

In one of a series of Santa Fe protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, John Otter waves to passersby outside the Bank of America branch at St. Francis Drive and Paseo de Peralta. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Jim Otter brought up the phony bank account scandal involving Wells Fargo, which he said was the biggest business to ever lose its accreditation with the Better Business Bureau. “Santa Fe needs to find a better place for our money than Wells Fargo Bank,” he said.

Banking options

Some speakers urged the city to put its money in local banks. One suggested the money would be better placed in a public bank, something the city is looking into establishing.

Notably, the first public bank in the United States, the Bank of North Dakota, has helped finance the cost of law enforcement at the protest site, announced this week to have reached $22.3 million.

Santa Fe’s City Council has already taken a stance in support of the DAPL protesters. Last month, the council passed a resolution that says, in part, “the City of Santa Fe recognizes the paramount importance of not disturbing, desecrating, or destroying Native American cultural and sacred sites, including ancestral burial grounds, and other significant items important to religious traditions and practices.” It calls on local financial institutions “to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline and invest instead in life-supporting projects and renewable energy projects.”

Wells Fargo Bank serves as the fiscal agent for the city of Santa Fe, which has a total of $210 million in Wells Fargo accounts, according to information provided by city Finance Director Adam Johnson. More than $155 million is in a trust, or custodial account, which holds the city’s investments in government and agency fixed income securities. About $32 million is in operational checking accounts.

The city has nearly $12 million invested in CDs with local banks: $200,000 with Century Bank; $250,000 each with the Bank of Albuquerque, Guadalupe Credit Union and State Employees Credit Union; and $10.75 million with the First National Bank of Santa Fe.

The last time the city put financial services up for competitive bid almost four years ago, Wells Fargo beat out Bank of America and the Bank of Albuquerque for the contract.

Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer rights group, has identified 17 financial institutions bankrolling the pipeline project. Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo Bank are the most recognizable,

Santa Fe wouldn’t be the first city to take steps to divest from Wells Fargo because of the pipeline.

As noted during Wednesday’s public comment by Santa Fe civil rights attorney Jeffrey Haas, one of a collective of lawyers who has offered their services pro bono to DAPL demonstrators, Seattle’s City Council introduced legislation to sever ties with Wells Fargo, which manages the city’s $3 billion operational account.

The Minneapolis City Council recently asked staff to look for ways to “stop doing business with financial institutions that invest in the fossil fuel industry and in projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.”