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  • People gather near the Oscars ceremony to protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, in Hollywood, California, Feb. 26, 2017.

    People gather near the Oscars ceremony to protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, in Hollywood, California, Feb. 26, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 March 2017

The city divested millions of dollars to pressure the company behind the oil project to stop its construction.

Santa Monica became the second city in California to divest from Wells Fargo bank over its lending of money to the company behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, as Native American activists intensify their divestment campaign after U.S. President Donald Trump revived the project, local media reported Saturday.

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The motion to divest was proposed by Councilmember Tony Vazquez last month and it was voted on and approved last Tuesday, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press. The city sold out US$4.6 million worth of shares and bonds with the bank.

While the immediate divestment resulted in the city losing US$120,000, council members argued that the vote highlighted the importance of the message sent in opposition to the pipeline.

Wells Fargo is one of 17 financial institutions that provided US$2.5 billion in credit to Energy Transfer Partners which is building the pipeline.

“What I’ve heard from the lenders to the Dakota Access Pipeline is that they might incur some cost if they were to break their contracts in funding the pipeline,” Councilmember Terry O’Day told the newspaper, “and we’re here tonight saying we’re willing to take some costs to do that and they should as well.”

The city has also voted to prohibit any future investments in institutions that provide financing to fossil fuel companies, as well as companies within the fossil fuel industry itself.

The city council meeting was attended by dozens of activists who said they had been to the Standing Rock encampment last year as thousands of people gathered near the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site.

Efforts to convince banks and lenders to divest from the pipeline have been gaining momentum in recent weeks as two U.S. cities, Seattle and Davis, have also divested from Wells Fargo.

Also in a letter late last month, New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio warned Wells Fargo over its funding for the Dakota Access pipeline, saying he has the power to pull the plug on the bank’s contract for operating accounts.

“A handful of millionaires and billionaires in the fossil fuel industry might benefit, but (DAPL) is a disaster for the rest of us,” the mayor warned.

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Standing Rock Sioux Tribe water protectors and their allies argue that the pipeline is being built on sacred lands and could damage their water sources.

The action against the US$3.8 billion pipeline has attracted more than 300 Native American tribes from across the United States in a show of unity and force.

The protests last year also gained international support. Earlier this week, Norway’s largest private investor said it was divesting more than US$30 million from three companies linked to the Dakota Access pipeline.

But so far, Wells Fargo seems unwilling to bow to the mounting pressure, as a spokesperson for the bank said in a statement last week that the divestment effort was “an empty gesture” that would not affect plans to construct the pipeline, Santa Monica’s newspaper reported.

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