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Seattle May Cut Ties With Bank Linked To Dakota Access Pipeline

A Dakota Access Pipeline protester defies law enforcement officers who are trying to force them from a camp on private land in the path of pipeline construction, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016.

Seattle leaders are considering cutting ties, at least temporarily, with a bank financing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Wells Fargo manages $3 billion of the city's operating funds under a contract that began in 2013 and is set to expire at the end of 2018. The bank says it is also one of 17 institutions providing loans for the oil pipeline through the Midwest.

City lawmakers took up a bill Monday that would call on the mayor and city finance officials to not renew the contract beyond 2018 and cease business with the bank for at least a year afterward. The bill was referred to the City Council's Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee.

Thousands of protestors, including some from the Northwest, flocked to North Dakota throughout the year in a effort to halt construction of the 1,172-mile pipeline. Demonstrators, led by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said the project threatened groundwater and sacred Native American sites.

Protestors won a major victory when the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for a key section of the pipeline in early December.

Critics of the project are continuing to push a divestment movement seeking to punish financiers. Native American tribal members in Washington state praised Seattle leaders for reconsidering the city's relationship with Wells Fargo.

"The city of Seattle has the opportunity to do something incredibly historic," Lakota activist Matt Remle said in remarks before the City Council on Monday.

"For our city to not take part in this, I believe it supports injustice violations of human rights, indigenous rights, and the pollution of water  for 18 million people," said Muckleshoot tribal member Rachel Heaton.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the lead backer of the bill, said the legislation will also change the city's financial policies "so that we can select a bank with a much stronger social justice criteria."

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said in a written statement that the bank is financing less than 5 percent of the project. 

She said bank leaders "respect all the differing opinions being expressed in this dispute, and hope all parties involved will work together to reach a peaceful resolution." Bank staff, she said, "stand ready to continue delivering outstanding service" to Seattle.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.