dakota oil pipeline draws albany bank branch



Jim Freeman invested a seven-hour car ride from Maine to stand in a snowstorm Thursday outside the TD bank branch on State Street, urging customers to pull accounts because the bank is helping finance a controversial oil pipeline in the western U.S.

About a half-dozen protesters gathered in front of the branch to draw public attention to the financial giant's role in the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has captured national headlines this fall as hundreds of Native Americans and others blocked construction at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in South Dakota.

Tribal leaders said the pipeline would endanger drinking water, sacred sites and the environment. The protest camp was the scene of clashes against protesters by law enforcement officials before the Army Corps of Engineers this month denied the project a critical permit to build underneath Lake Oahe on the reservation. The corps said it will begin an environmental review to consider alternate routes.

TD bank is among more than a dozen banks that are financing the $3.8 billion project, which would bring oil in a 1,172-mile pipeline from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to southern Illinois. Originally set to be finished by January 2017, the project is about 90 percent complete.

"We have been doing the same protests outside TD branches in Maine every Thursday this month," said Freeman. On Jan. 1, the bank must act to renew its financing, he said.

"We are asking people to take their money out of TD bank and put it in local banks or credit unions that are not investing in fossil fuels, which are a dying industry," said Diana Wright, a spokeswoman for People of Albany United for Safe Energy, a grassroots group that has been advocating against Bakken crude oil train shipments coming into the Port of Albany.

"It is a small thing that you can do, but it is something that anyone with an account can do," said Wright. Several protesters who entered the bank lobby briefly in an effort to speak with the manager were told by staffers there to return to the sidewalk.

TD spokeswoman Judith Schmidt issued a statement: "We support efforts to ensure the sustainability and safety of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) site. And we respect the rights of those who wish to voice their opinions in peaceful protest."

Schmidt said the bank played "an active role" in getting oil companies behind the project to hire Foley Hoag LLP, a Boston-based law firm, to "conduct a review on behalf of the lenders and advise on recommended improvements ... can make to their social policies and procedures moving forward."

Last month, President-elect Donald Trump tapped a high-ranking TD official, billionaire Todd Ricketts, as deputy commerce secretary. Ricketts is also co-owner of the Chicago Cubs professional baseball team.

[email protected]518-454-5094@Bnearing10

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.