Pipe(line) dream: Sacramento group wants council to put financial pressure on Dakota Access pipeline lender

Seattle divests $3 billion from Wells Fargo after Trump jump-starts pipeline construction

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the January 9, 2017, issue.

Protesters opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline occupied the front of the Army Corps of Engineers building in Midtown last week, showing solidarity with a movement that went from victorious to deflated in the space between the previous presidency and the dawn of a new administration.

The February 2 demonstration, which drew a modest crowd one day after organizers postponed the event in deference to a Black Lives Matter march, attracted no shortage of law enforcement to make sure things stayed in hand.

Four police officers stood guard at the entrance to the Corps building at 1325 J Street. Directly across the street, a cluster of cops spoke among themselves while casually reclined on bikes and patrol cars. Activist Cecilia Madrigal noted the sizable police presence at the peaceful gathering.

“They feel we are a serious threat, and they should,” she told SN&R. “We are tired of being ignored and our environment being in danger.”

In truth, the cause faces an uphill battle.

In December of last year, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies won a seeming victory when the Army Corps denied Energy Transfer Partners the permit needed to complete the pipeline. ETP first petitioned to build a 1,172-mile pipeline, which promises to deliver 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily to North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields, in December 2014.

However, the long battle would come to yield a brief victory as President Donald Trump, four days into power, signed an executive order as part of his “America First Energy Plan” to move forward with the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. As a result, anti-pipeline demonstrations have reemerged countrywide.

On February 1 in North Dakota, armed authorities arrested 76 protesters to clear the way for the continued construction of the pipeline—a pipeline the Standing Rock tribe alleges violates its sovereign treaty rights and, in addition, threatens to contaminate the drinking water of North Dakota residents.

A couple of days after the North Dakota raid, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member Chase Iron Eyes informed the Lakota People’s Law Project Facebook page that he and another activist, Vanessa Castle, were being charged with inciting a riot, a felony that potentially carries a penalty of five years in prison. The remaining arrested activists are being charged with criminal trespass and participating in a riot.

While many protesters face charges, Republican lawmakers in North Dakota have introduced legislation that could put them in physical danger. In direct response to the Standing Rock movement, Rep. Keith Kempenich authored House Bill 1203, which would let drivers run over demonstrators without legal consequences if they’re obstructing traffic on public roads and highways. Specifically, the proposed legislation states that “a driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages.”

Meanwhile, in a show of support for Standing Rock, the Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to pull $3 billion of its funds from Wells Fargo, a lender in the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Seattle is not alone. That same night, the Davis City Council was scheduled to consider its own response to public pleas for divestment.

In a written statement, Madrigal said NO DAPL Sacramento wants to get local politicians to embrace Seattle’s example, and had asked Mayor Darrell Steinberg and his council colleagues to have the city “divest from any bank investing in the DAPL and … write a letter to Trump against the DAPL.”

Sacramento is considering withdrawing some $28 million in assets from Wells Fargo, but that possible action is related to fallout from the bank’s use of customer information to open 2 million bogus accounts. On December 6, the council voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution supporting the tribe’s opposition to the pipeline. But that was before Trump’s reversal.

Last Thursday, cars honked their support during the rush-hour demonstration. Asked what she thought Sacramentans could do to help the cause, Madrigal studied the officers across the street.

“Be out here,” she replied. “Simply show that there are humans that want this to end. By being here, it makes a loud statement, and the more people there are, the more impactful that statement becomes.”

The protest had grown from five people to 23 by the time it adjourned at 6 p.m. The honking never ceased.