With the news that the City of Seattle and the City of Davis, California, are cutting ties with Wells Fargo Bank because of its investment in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), many in Salem are asking about our own city’s connection with DAPL and other fossil fuel investments.

The City of Salem’s bank is U.S Bank, just as the City of Seattle’s bank has been Wells Fargo. US Bank is among several that are providing financing to Sunoco Logistics and Energy Transfer Partners, two of the companies that intend to build and operate DAPL. US Bank has already funded the pipeline to the extent of $275 million, according to December 2016 figures gathered by Food & Water Watch.

The city also includes Exxon and Chevron as small members of its investment portfolio.

“I am disappointed that the City of Salem has a contract with US Bank, but this is a situation that can be reversed,” says Pamela Vasquez, an indigenous environmentalist involved in DefundDAPL, “if the city has the moral and ethical will to do so. I believe that life on Mother Earth is hanging in the balance.  Climate change is happening now, and we need to keep all fossil fuels in the ground.”

Vasquez notes that, in 2016, the planet’s atmosphere surpassed 400 PPM (parts per million) carbon dioxide, “and we are driving the destruction of our planet for short-term profit.”

The vast majority of climate scientists, including former NASA climatologist James Hansen, have said this level of CO2 in the atmosphere is unsafe. “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that… to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced … to at most 350 PPM,” Hansen has said.

Concerns about forward momentum for DAPL rose locally following executive actions in January by President Donald Trump to advance approval of pipeline projects including DAPL, and the February 8 easement granted by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the project to complete construction of the final 1 ½ miles of the 1,200 mile pipeline.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had paused construction in November after months of protests by Native Peoples and “Standing Rock” allies, and negative publicity because of the kennel jailing, assaults on, and hosing down of water protectors in sub-freezing weather. At that time the corps announced that it needed to have “additional discussion and analysis” with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Indigenous Peoples Power Project disputes claims by Energy Transfer that the pipeline is “by far” the safest way to transport energy liquids and gasses, saying, “DAPL is no ordinary pipeline. It is very large, with a 36-inch diameter and capacity of 570,000 barrels per day. It… presents a far greater risk to the environment and public health than other, smaller liquid and natural gas lines.”

Laurie Dougherty is co-coordinator for the Salem chapter of 350.0rg, an international climate change organization that protested outside Salem banks on February 4, calling on them to withdraw participation in DAPL.

“Pipelines frequently leak and break,” Dougherty says, “contaminating land and water.” A completed DAPL would cross the Missouri River “just upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, putting their water and heritage lands at risk – as well as millions of other people downstream and along the 1200 mile route of the pipeline. There is also considerable risk to the climate from bringing this oil to market.”

Vasquez argues that the city should divest from US Bank “in the same way Seattle divested from Wells Fargo… it matters a great deal [what] banks, corporations, people and cities invest in, since these choices are contributing to the destruction of our planet.”

Dougherty notes that local banks and credit unions would provide a less environmentally destructive option for the city, and points out they provide loans and banking services for worthwhile projects and programs in the Salem area. “By banking locally,” she says, “the city can keep its funds circulating here and further its own economic development goals, while not participating in the more objectionable wheeling and dealing undertaken by large financial institutions which have no loyalty other than their own bottom line.”

Seattle is not severing ties with Wells Fargo immediately but at the end of its 2018 contract, according to City of Seattle staff. In Salem, the city entered into a 10-year agreement with US Bank in 2014, says Mike Gotterba of the City of Salem. The agreement was the result of a competitive bidding process.

Gotterba says he has “asked that the contract be looked at regarding withdrawal penalties,” but does not yet have that information.

“I’m not a lawyer,” Dougherty says, “but I urge the city’s lawyers to investigate what can be done about this contract. Stakeholders in many financial institutions are becoming concerned about over-exposure to fossil fuel interests in light of the emerging transition to a renewable energy economy. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.”

In Salem, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Bank of America and Chase have investments in DAPL.