Energy & Environment

The key to stopping Keystone XL? Follow the money.

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After years of protest and debate resulted in the rejection of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline under the Obama administration, all expectations are that the Trump administration is now just days away from reopening this national wound.

Trump is expected to reverse course and approve the controversial project that will move Canadian tar sands oil through U.S. territory to be sold to international markets. Let’s be clear: the KXL pipeline would be a disaster — for clean water, clean air, indigenous and other land rights and the will of the millions of Americans who raised their voices in opposition. 

{mosads}The KXL would be a disaster for everybody except the friends of the new administration who will be lining their pockets at the planet’s expense. While many once again consider the KXL pipeline a done deal, we have a plan that could still stop it. 


Our best hope today to stop this misguided, outdated idea is to follow the money and turn off the spigot of cash flowing from the banking industry to the dirty energy sector. Giant fossil fuel projects like this one require billions of dollars to build and lock us into decades of carbon pollution. We need to ensure that banks stop bankrolling and profiting off climate chaos and human rights abuses.

Even energy giants like TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone pipeline, need the support of major financial institutions to lend them the kind of money required for construction of such gargantuan industrial infrastructure. For too long, these mega banks have managed to avoid responsibility for the consequences of supporting companies that profoundly shape the future we will all live in. 

It’s time to turn up the heat and demonstrate that banks will no longer be allowed to operate behind the scenes with no accountability for the damaging social and environmental impacts they contribute to. It is time to name names and pull these power players out from the shadows and into the light of public scrutiny. 

Twenty-one financial institutions currently serve as TransCanada’s ATM, offering over $5 billion in revolving credit to its pipeline business in three loans that were each updated this past December.

JP Morgan Chase and Bank of Montreal are the lead banks arranging the credit. Notably, Citibank and Wells Fargo, which both financed the highly-controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), are once again involved, and they re-upped their support for TransCanada while the DAPL fight was raging. 

The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota took the fossil fuel industry — and the banks that support it — by surprise. When tens of thousands of people began protesting and getting arrested at Citi, TD Bank and Wells Fargo branches around the country for the banks’ involvement in financing DAPL, the banks took notice and went on the defensive.

When major cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Davis, Calif. started to divest billions in assets from these banks over their involvement in DAPL, they really began to sweat. 

Too often, banks are seen as either immune to public pressure or somehow outside the decisionmaking process for major projects like KXL or DAPL. In fact, banks have near total discretion over how and whom they lend their money to.

When they feel the spotlight shining on them, they have been responsive to public opinion. Grassroots campaigns have pushed major banks to adopt policies against funding things ranging from slave labor to mountaintop removal coal mining, with significant declines in the financial flows to those industries as a result. 

Just this month, Shell became the latest fossil fuel giant to either sell off or write down its tar sands reserves, citing collapse in public support and a bleak financial future for the sector. This is no longer a matter of banks getting ahead of the curve, it’s a matter of them seeing the writing on the wall of an industry in terminal decline. 

Since 2011, the fight to stop construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline has united and catalyzed the U.S. environmental movement. In fact, the movement that has grown around opposition to the KXL project has contributed to redefining who and what the environmental movement in this country is seen as.

The Cowboy and Indian Alliance marched on D.C. and pipeline fighters, working with local landowners in the East Texas, held an 80-day tree-sit to stop construction on the southern leg of KXL.

Indigenous groups, Nebraskan landowners and communities of faith became the new face of the resistance. Most importantly, millions of people made public comments in the official record and nearly 100,000 pledged to engage in civil disobedience if the pipeline was approved. 

As a quick reminder, this is a project by a Canadian company to ship the dirtiest and most-polluting form of fossil fuel from the Canadian tar sands through the U.S., only to be shipped out to foreign markets.

This oil is not even for the American market. However, those living in Indigenous territories and rural areas along the pipeline would bear the inevitable consequences of leaking pipelines, polluted waterways and many other negative environmental hazards.

Locking horns with the global financial industry to transition big banks away from supporting fossil fuel infrastructure development is a daunting challenge. But it is one this moment in history demands of us. 

The fight against KXL was never just about a pipeline. It has always been and continues to be a struggle between opposing views for our collective future. With the outsized influence their billions of dollars afford them, banks are a major part of this story and therefore must be a major part of our struggle for a just and climate-stable future. 


Lindsey Allen is the executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental organization based in San Francisco.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Citibank Dakota Access Pipeline Dakota Access Pipeline protests Debt Financing Infrastructure Keystone Pipeline KXL oil sands Petroleum TransCanada Corporation

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