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How to Divest Your Money from DAPL - By jkukura - March 8, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

How to Divest Your Money from DAPL

Traditional Aztec dancers perform a ceremony outside the Federal Building in S.F. protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline being constructed. (Photo by Jessica Christian)

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has infuriated Native Americans, environmental protesters, and clean water advocates since the project near North Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation broke ground last year. President Donald Trump issued an executive order in January expediting completion of the pipeline, and the protest site has since been cleared.

But the DAPL battle isn’t over; it’s just moving from Standing Rock to local governments across the country. At its March 14 meeting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on a resolution to begin screening out any DAPL investments the city holds, and Oakland City Council passed a resolution in February calling for CalPERS, the state retirement fund, to divest from DAPL.

Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan authored the resolution.

“I went to Standing Rock in November,” she tells SF Weekly. “Seeing the level of police brutality, seeing the level of the threat to tribal lands and treaty rights and drinking water just reinforced to me that this project is something that goes against my values and goes against our values as Oaklanders. We should not have our money in it.”

That said, you might unknowingly have your money in it, through your banking habits, investments, and pension or retirement accounts.   

The myriad companies financially involved in building DAPL are fairly complex. The pipeline itself is being built by Dakota Access LLC, whose parent company is a Texas-based oil conglomerate called Energy Transfer Partners. Well-known gas station chains Sunoco and Phillips 66 both have significant ownership stakes in it, and financing to build the pipeline comes from large national banks like Citibank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America.   

In other words, any bank that has a sports arena or stadium named after it is most likely financially involved with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In fairness, everyone is entitled to keep their investments that support the pipeline. An argument can be made that the Dakota Access Pipeline will be a relatively safe tool for transporting oil. While pipelines tend to have more oil spills than trains or trucks transporting oil, these spills don’t often kill people. They generally just cause a mess, whereas train and trucks spills are far more likely to result in explosions or fatalities.

But the “more spills, fewer fatalities” argument may not bring much comfort to the millions of people who get their drinking water from the lakes and rivers that this pipeline would run through.

“This is both standing up for the planet and also respecting the rights of indigenous people,” Kaplan says.

So if you do want to stand up for the planet or indigenous people, you probably shouldn’t bank with an institution that’s financing the Dakota Pipeline.

“We would ask everyone to reassess their personal stake in this pipeline and to consider switching to a credit union or an alternative that is more socially responsible,” San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition organizer Jackie Fielder tells SF Weekly.

To that end, the coalition has created a list of San Francisco banks whose hands are clean of DAPL investments.

“We looked at a list of 1,000 or so U.S. chartered banks,” Fielder says. “From that list, we gathered about a dozen that have at least one branch in San Francisco that are not financers of the Dakota Access Pipeline and that are not shareholders of the Energy Transfer Partners family of companies.”

Of the banks recommended by the S.F. Defund DAPL Coalition, those with the most San Francisco branches — in other words, the most convenient for finding a branch or an ATM — are East West Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, and Sterling Bank & Trust.  

But switching banks does pose some inconveniences. It is not recommended that you just pull all your funds from one bank and plop them in another that same day; you might still have some direct deposit payments coming, and you can’t really control the speed at which your direct deposit will transfer to a new and different bank account.  

You also need to worry about every automated bill payment you have set up to that account. Go through your last 12 months of withdrawals and take note of every automated payment that was charged. Understand that some companies will take up to 30 days to switch the account for an automated payment, so you can’t be sure that your payments won’t be declined if you close the old account too quickly.

This means you’re still leaving money in the account of a bank with whom you want to break it off, and that sucks. But the penalties for bounced checks or declined payments suck even more.

Once you’ve got your new bank account, direct deposits transferred, and auto payments set up, the easiest way to move money from your old account is through an Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfer. It’s kind of like a PayPal transfer between two banks, though an ACH transfer generally costs around $5 and takes a few business days to complete.

If you really want to make a statement about closing your account, DefundDAPL.org has a form letter you can send to your previous bank to explain why you dumped them. They also have some social media tips on promoting and hashtagging your bank switch to ensure public pressure is applied to the bank.

Many retirement accounts and pension funds contain DAPL investments, and whether yours does is between you, your adviser, and that phone book-sized investment guide they send you every year. But your tax dollars do support a DAPL investment, and that’s why Oakland is urging America’s largest pension fund, CalPERS, to reconsider its portfolio.

“CalPERS has about $50 million invested in energy transfer partners,” Kaplan says. “We’re talking about a big enough chunk of money that can really have an impact.”

Even if you don’t have a CalPERS retirement account, you still have a say in whether it continues to fund the pipeline.

“This money does come from the taxpayers of California,” Kaplan says. “Whether or not you’re a CalPERS member, every Californian has a stake in it.”

Joe Kukura is an SF Weekly news writer.