U.S. Bank Quietly Joins $4B Deal With Dakota Access Owner After Declaring End to Oil and Gas Pipeline Loans
By Sharon Kelly
At a shareholder meeting this past spring, U.S. Bank announced it would be the first large American bank to completely stop issuing loans for oil and gas pipeline construction projects.
Environmental groups, indigenous activists and divestment advocates hailed U.S. Bank's announcement as a triumph.
Yet that triumph—and the bank's commitment—seems less sure with the news that U.S. Bank has entered into a new $4 billion loan deal with the company behind the contentious Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).
For months, the bank had been under fire for financing the Dakota Access pipeline by providing over a quarter billion dollars worth of funding to its builder, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). Environmentalists famously dropped a banner calling on U.S. Bank to divest from DAPL at the New Years 2017 Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears football game.
The language of the bank's new policy seemed blunt.
"The company does not provide project financing for the construction of oil or natural gas pipelines," U.S. Bancorp, parent company of U.S. Bank, wrote in its April 2017 Environmental Responsibility Policy.
Some advocates remained skeptical, however, pointing out that the line of credit extended to Energy Transfer Partners wouldn't be covered by that language, because it could be considered a loan for the company as a whole, not the more specific "project financing." And U.S. Bank's CEO told shareholders that his bank wouldn't end its existing Energy Transfer Partners deal, saying that instead it would "fulfill that contract and commitment."
"We know there are always loopholes through which banks will try to pass off responsibility," Rachel Heaton of Mazaska Talks and a Muckleshoot Tribe member told Yes Magazine, "but we will continue to resist until these banks completely divest from all pipeline and fossil fuel corporations and incorporate the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples into their corporate lending structures."
Even if that specific contract wasn't going to be torn up, environmental groups hoped that in the future, the bank would limit its funding of fossil fuel projects.
CEO Andy Cecere "strongly implied that the bank would pull back from pipelines and ETP in particular—aside from its obligations under its 'contract with ETP' (i.e. its existing credit facility)," Brant Olson, Program Director at ClimateTruth.org, told DeSmog.
U.S. Bank's new environmental policy added that any new deals the bank did with companies in the oil and gas pipeline industry would have to undergo additional scrutiny, including a look at their environmental record.
"We want to confirm that a firm's policies and processes are sound and effective as they relate to the environment and the community in which it operates," the policy adds. "In accordance with our environmental responsibility commitment, we prohibit relationships with customers who participate in any illegal activities."
Transferring More Money to Energy Transfer Partners
That's why it was so striking when Energy Transfer Partners quietly announced in a Dec. 1 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that U.S. Bank was part of ETP's new $4 billion credit deal.
ETP's projects include numerous controversial fossil fuel pipelines nationwide, including not only Dakota Access, but also Mariner East 2, Rover, Bayou Bridge, and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil pipeline.
Asked whether Energy Transfer Partners had passed muster during the additional due diligence in U.S. Bank's much-lauded environmental review policy, U.S. Bank's spokesperson Cheryl Leamon declined to comment. "As a matter of policy, we do not discuss customer relationships," she told DeSmog in an email.
Environmentalists hoped that this was a chance for U.S. Bank to end its dealings with ETP. StopETP.org, a coalition of national and local environmental and indigenous rights groups, wrote a letter to the bank in November, urging it to use the chance to cut ties with ETP, which was seeking to renew its $4 billion credit line in a deal involving numerous major banks.
But U.S. Bank has apparently refused, said Food and Water Watch senior researcher Dr. Hugh MacMillan, "after having scored praise back in May for its new pipeline finance policy."
U.S. Bank did not respond when asked about the types of law-breaking that might cross the line and cause a borrower to fail the bank's new due diligence requirements.
The bank's professed wariness of fossil fuel companies had drawn an angry response from the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance, which had fired off a letter to U.S. Bank protesting the new policy. "This creates the presumption that firms and people involved in these areas, including those providing construction, equipment, materials, services or other support to these operations, are more likely than all others to be 'bad actors'," the trade group wrote, "thus requiring a higher level of scrutiny."
That additional environmental record review was widely expected to be particularly bad news for Energy Transfer Partners, which has an environmental record that includes more than 300 pipeline incidents in the past decade, causing over $67 million dollars in property damage, according to data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
"From January 2010 through June 2017, ETP spilled hazardous liquids near water crossings more than twice as frequently as any other pipeline company in the United States this decade [and w]as responsible for almost 20 percent of all hazardous liquid spills near water crossings," a recently published report by the Waterkeeper Alliance noted.
In November, one of Energy Transfer Partners' pipeline projects was was sued by Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency over 13 violations of the state's environmental laws, including spewing millions of gallons of drilling fluid into the state's wetlands.
"Among other things, ETP has caused seven industrial spills during the construction of the $4.2 billion natural gas pipeline through Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan," Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. and Maria Cantwell, ranking members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Energy and Natural Resources, respectively, wrote in a July 27, 2017 letter to federal regulators decrying ETP's track record on complying with environmental laws.
The company's spill record has even drawn concern from investors, with The Street reporting, "'Energy Transfer seems to have an approach where they stick to the minimum requirements instead of exceeding them,' Genscape natural gas analyst Colette Breshears said."
Sunoco Logistics, which merged into ETP last year, had the worst oil spill record of any company in the industry, a 2016 Reuters investigative report found.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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