Keystone XL resolution shifts to slow lane

Late last week the Trump administration surprised many by announcing that it had granted approval for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project. In response, activist groups and indigenous tribes immediately began organizing opposition, and locally Council member Kshama Sawant is doing some of the heavy lifting for that effort. Sawant introduced a resolution this afternoon for the City Council’s approval that would once again register its opposition to the pipeline — and direct the city not to do business with its financial backers.

While the Council’s rules allow a resolution to be introduced and passed the same day, in this case several of Sawant’s colleagues argued for taking at least a week to understand its implications.

The original version of the resolution, as circulated early this morning by Sawant, is quite direct. It lists by name a number of financial institutions that are claimed to be providing financial support for Keystone XL:

WHEREAS, financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase, CitiBank, Wells Fargo, Bank of Montreal, Scotia Bank, ATB Financial, Bank of Tokyo, Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC, National Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, Credit Agricole, Desjardins, Deutsche Bank, Mizuho and Sumimoto Mitsui Banking Corporation have provided financial services to TransCanada;

It then goes on to direct FAS not to do business with them:

The Seattle City Council does not support doing business with financial institutions that invest in the Keystone XL Pipeline or otherwise provide financial services to TransCanada for that project. We request the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) reject bids to provide banking services to the City of Seattle from financial institutions that provide credit level facilities or project-level loans to TransCanada. We request FAS look for meaningful ways to communicate these positions of the Seattle City Council to prospective financial institutions, such as in incorporating appropriate language in Requests for Proposals for city contracts.

Based on this morning’s discussion at the weekly Council Briefing, it’s clear that Sawant and her staff did not discuss this with FAS before circulating the draft, so none of the Council members could speak to what this would mean to the city. On the heels of the recent ordinance cutting ties with Wells Fargo and introducing “fair business practices” rules for all city contracts, the list of banks capable of contracting with the city for banking services was already shrinking, and this move would surely diminish it further.  Council member Burgess noted that he had sent it to FAS for feedback this morning upon receiving the draft. According to some Council members, their early feedback back included a general concern that the city was creating an antagonistic relationship towards banks in general that would discourage banks from bidding on city business at all. For other Council members, however, as well as some Seattle citizens offering public comment this afternoon, that simply reinforces the need to create either a state or municipal bank to provide banking services rather than rely on corporate banks.

By the time the resolution was officially introduced this afternoon,  the language had been softened:

The Seattle City Council does not support doing business with financial institutions that invest in the Keystone XL Pipeline or otherwise provide financial services to TransCanada for that project. We request the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to investigate ways to establish contracting criteria to prioritize the City’s goals to avoid contracting for banking services to The City of Seattle with financial institutions that provide credit-level facilities or project-level loans to TransCanada. We request that FAS look for meaningful ways to communicate these positions of the Seattle City Council to prospective financial institutions, such as by incorporating appropriate language in Requests for Proposals for City contracts.

Nevertheless, several Council members wanted the chance to talk to FAS about implications, and the Council opted to wait until next Monday at the earliest to vote on it.

While accepting of her colleagues’ concerns, Sawant did point out that there is some urgency, given that TransCanada is still working to close final funding for the project. The next several days will be key for attempts to build political pressure against the project that deprives it of necessary funding. It is good, however, to see the Council pausing to fully understand the impact of its legislation rather than rushing it through.

Council President Harrell will decide later this week whether to schedule a vote on the resolution for next Monday (April 3rd) or for the following week (the 10th).

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