By Dan Bacher / Daily Kos
On February 17, California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) officials announced they are joining over 100 fellow investors asking major U.S. and international banks backing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to address the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota.
The statement endorsed by CalPERS supports a rerouting of the pipeline, but doesn’t call for halting DAPL, a project that poses enormous harm to the drinking water supply for 17 million people and to many fish and wildlife species on the Missouri River.
The announcement came four days after 150 people from a coalition of environmental and Native American Groups held a march and rally in front of the CalPERS office in Sacramento to tell the retirement fund to divest from its investments in banks backing the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The investors, including four New York City pension funds, Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert, and Storebrand Asset Management, called on the banks to act “to protect the banks’ reputation, consumer base, and avoid legal liabilities.”
“Banks with financial ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline may be implicated in these controversies and may face long-term brand and reputational damage resulting from consumer boycotts and possible legal liability,” said the investors in a statement. “We call on the banks to address or support the tribe’s request for a reroute and utilize their influence as a project lender to reach a peaceful solution that is acceptable to all parties, including the tribe.”
The investors directed the statement towards 17 banks, including Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Bayerische Landesbank, BancoBilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, BNP Paribas, Citibank, Crédit Agricole, DNB, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, ING, Intesa Sanpaolo, Mizuho Bank, Natixis, Société Générale, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., SunTrust Bank, Toronto-Dominion Bank, and Wells Fargo.
CalPERS, the $309 billion retirement fund, has about $6.5 billion invested in 16 of the 17 banks as a shareholder and creditor, as of Dec. 31, 2016, according to a statement from CalPERS.
“We are pleased to join our fellow investors to help address the community concerns and environmental risks that can impact the long-term returns of our investments,” said Anne Simpson, CalPERS’ investment director, sustainability. “We believe that engaging with the companies we own is the first course of action to effect change and a preferred option over divestment where we lose our voice as an investor.”
Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, has introduced a bill, AB 20, that requires CalPERS to divest from the project. Kalra issued a statement praising CalPERS’ request for a new pipeline route, but is not withdrawing the bill.
“As a significant investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is important that California continues to take steps to respect the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and raise awareness on the environmental impacts the Dakota Access Pipeline would have on its lands,” Kalra said
View the statement and list of signatories (PDF).
RL Miller of Climate Hawks Vote, the Chair of the California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus, responded to the CALPERS announcement, stating, “It’s a really significant move, although far short of divestment. If Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) listens, it would be a huge victory for Indigenous tribes in particular. And if ETP doesn’t listen to these large institutional investors, it’s proof that divestment is the only moral alternative.”
“Normally these meetings are sedate, with a half-dozen citizens, but Monday we overwhelmed the room,” she stated after Monday’s CalPERS meeting. “It was amazing to be there: Tribal activists, environmental organizers, elected officials, state workers, and CalPERS beneficiaries testified to the committee — who were obviously overwhelmed by our presence — about the importance of respecting indigenous rights and protecting the climate from the exploitative and unsustainable fossil-fuel industry.”
Miller said supporters of divestment filled 80 percent of the seats in the room.
“When I stood up to testify, I took my allotted two minutes to share the petition of the 32,000-plus Climate Hawks Vote members from around the country demanding divestment. I handed over the names and comments of people who don’t want our public dollars invested in human-rights abuses and climate destruction,” she said.
Groups backing the effort to divest at the rally and meeting included Climate Hawks Vote, California League of Conservation Voters, No DAPL Sacramento, Courage Campaign, DailyKos, Fossil Free California, Friends of the Earth, Green For All, Idle No More – San Francisco Bay, and the Indigenous Environmental Network. The groups presented boxes of petitions including over 52,000 signatures to the CALPERS Board.
The groups urged the CalPERS Board to support AB 20, the bill before the state legislature requiring divestment from DAPL. The Board agreed to table voting on the bill and to work with the author of the bill, Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, regarding the legislation, according to MIller.
Speakers at the event included Pennie Opal Plant of Idle No More – San Francisco Bay; Neeta Lind (Navajo) of Daily Kos; Jeff Conant of Friends of the Earth: Sacramento activist Rick Guerrero, Vice-Chair of the California Democratic party Environmental Caucus and former President of the Environmental Council of Sacramento and ; Francisco Dominguez of Davis Stands With Standing Rock; and Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.
“I am a member of CalPERS, and do not want my retirement money used to fund the Dakota Access Pipe Line,” said Oakland’s city-wide Councilmember, Rebecca Kaplan. “The pipeline not only threatens the health of the planet and the safety of the drinking water, it also attacks the treaty rights of indigenous people, and represents a troubling example of environmental racism.”
“When the pipeline was originally proposed to travel through a white neighborhood, that community opposed it and the company backed off, re-routing it to threaten Native American lands, water, and tribal rights. The fact that the federal government refuses to protect our environment and indigenous peoples makes it even more imperative that we, as Californians, hold ourselves to a higher standard of conduct, including how we invest our pension funds,” she said.
“We can put our money where our mouth is and stand up for our values. That is why I am calling on CalPERS to divest from DAPL,” she urged.
In a similar vein, Pennie Opal Plant of Idle No More – San Francisco Bay and the Indigenous Environmental Network told the crowd, “We need to be ready to put our bodies on the line for life and water. I just got arrested in San Francisco last week in an action against DAPL. I expect you to be next to me next time.”
Francisco Dominguez of Davis Stands With Standing Rock emphasized how “environmental racism is a serious issue here. Native Lives Matter!”
“The people at Standing Rock have been putting up with this since first contact,” said Dominguez. “On the morning before Donald Trump signed executive orders to OK the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, he put up a portrait of Andrew Jackson in his office. Andrew Jackson was the white supremacist president who forced all of the natives in the southern part of the country to march on foot to Oklahoma in the Trail of Tears.”
Dominguez discussed the Kinder Morgan North Pipeline that stretches from Richmond to Reno, along with an arm going from Sacramento to Chico. That pipeline, carrying 220,000 gallons of refined gasoline per day under the Sacramento River, California’s largest river and a migratory corridor and habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and many other fish species, went in back in 1967. “The pipeline infrastucture in this country is out of control,” he said.
Neeta Lind (Navajo), the Director of Community at Daily Kos, noted that Daily Kos had signed on to the letter supporting divestment from DAPL. She recounted her mother’s experience of being stolen from her family at age five and forced by government agents to attend boarding school in an effort to assimilate her. “I’m fighting the assimilation by standing with the Standing Rock Sioux and their long history of protecting their land and water,” she said.
“CalPERs publicly prides itself on environmental integrity, and its investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline completely betrays this integrity,” stated Jeff Conant, International Forests Program Director, Friends of the Earth. “By betting the retirement funds of California state employees on the completion of this pipeline, CalPERS is gambling with our future and putting its interests directly in line with the Trump agenda of total warfare against people and planet. We need CalPERS to take a stand and pull out of DAPL, now.”
RL Miller of Climate Hawks Vote and Janet Cox of Fossil Free California, long-time divestment activists, helped to organize Monday’s rally. “Actually it pretty much organized itself,” said Cox. “People care about the Dakota Pipeline, and they recognize CalPERS’ wealth and influence. This was an opportunity to show up for a just cause.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum on Thursday, February 16, refused to extend next week’s evacuation deadline for water protectors living in camps that have been a base for months for demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“It’s completely impossible to remove everything down there in that short of a time frame,” Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told Reuters. “The people aren’t opposed to the help of the Army Corps, but it’s got to be without the presence of militarized law enforcement.” (www.yahoo.com/…)