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Dakota Access protesters close Citibank accounts

As part of a global day of solidarity with Standing Rock water protectors, thousands of activists around the globe demanded that Citibank halt and rescind its loan disbursements for the Dakota Access pipeline.

Activists went to Citibank branches to close their accounts and ask that the bank honor its policies on Indigenous, human, and environmental rights.

Citibank holds the largest share in the Dakota Access pipeline and helped lay the groundwork for other financial institutions to join in financing the controversial project.

“Citibank claims that it cares about Indigenous rights, yet has led the way in financing this disastrous project on behalf of a fossil fuel company willing to destroy Standing Rock’s sacred land and water supply,” said Greenpeace spokeswoman Mary Sweeters. “Not only has the bank laid the groundwork for the project to move forward, in doing so it has signed off on the human rights abuses we’ve seen from Energy Transfer Partners and its security team. It’s time for Citi to put its loan disbursements on hold and withdraw from the pipeline agreement if all outstanding issues are not resolved to the satisfaction of the Standing Rock Sioux.”

In addition to visiting local branches to close accounts and demand accountability from Citi, activists were taking to phones throughout the day to pressure the bank to halt and rescind its loan disbursements.

The actions are part of a larger global day of solidarity with Standing Rock through which individuals closed their bank accounts, shut down banks and demand the withdrawal of sheriff departments.

Greenpeace, which is involved in coordinating the actions, delivered a letter to Citibank reiterating the demands outlined in a coalition letter initiated by BankTrack and sent to all 17 financial institutions backing the project.

The demands include:

• All further loan disbursements to the project are immediately put on hold.

• Citi demands from the project sponsor that all construction of the pipeline and all associated structures is put on hold until all outstanding issues are resolved to the full satisfaction of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

• In case such a resolution of outstanding issues is not achieved with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Citi will fully withdraw from the loan agreement and any other credit facilities to the Energy Transfer Family of Partnerships.

• A public statement is made by Citi on how it will act on the issues identified above.

TD Bank, Bank of America, Suntrust and Goldman Sachs are among the other financial institutions backing the project and the subjects of ongoing protest.

DNB, the largest bank in Norway, recently decided to sell its assets invested in the companies behind the pipeline and is exploring the possibility of terminating its loans as well, which amount for 10 percent of the project.

ING also has expressed concerns about the project and its impacts to the Standing Rock Sioux.

“We are confident that people power can stop this ill-conceived pipeline,” said Sweeters. “Whether it be through the banks pulling their loans or the (Obama) administration pulling the permitting, it’s time to listen to Standing Rock and all the Indigenous communities demanding action.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has delayed a decision on an easement for the pipeline to allow for additional analysis and discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The original permitting for the pipeline was fast tracked without adequate tribal consultation and consent or environmental review.

With Donald Trump’s presidency on the horizon, calls have grown stronger for Barack Obama to designate a national monument to permanently protect Standing Rock.

Trump’s stock in Dakota Access pipeline company raises concern

Donald Trump holds stock in the company building the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline, and pipeline opponents warn his investments could affect any decision he makes on the $3.8 billion project as president.

Concern about Trump’s possible conflicts comes amid protests that unfold daily along the proposed pipeline route.

The dispute over the route has intensified in recent weeks, with total arrests since August rising to 528.

A recent clash near the main protest camp in North Dakota left a police officer and several protesters injured.

Trump’s most recent federal disclosure forms, filed in May, show he owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. That’s down from between $500,000 and $1 million a year earlier.

Trump also owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66, which has a one-quarter share of Dakota Access.

While Trump’s stake in the pipeline company is modest compared with his other assets, ethics experts say it’s among dozens of potential conflicts that could be resolved by placing his investments in a blind trust, a step Trump has resisted.

The Obama administration said this month it wants more study and tribal input before deciding whether to allow the partially built pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota.

The 1,200-mile pipeline would carry oil across four states to a shipping point in Illinois. The project has been held up while the Army Corps of Engineers consults with the Standing Rock Sioux, who believe the project could harm the tribe’s drinking water and Native American cultural sites.

The delay raises the likelihood that a final decision will be made by Trump, a pipeline supporter who has vowed to “unleash” unfettered production of oil and gas. He takes office in January.

“Trump’s investments in the pipeline business threaten to undercut faith in this process — which was already frayed — by interjecting his own financial well-being into a much bigger decision,” said Sharon Buccino, director of the land and wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

“This should be about the interests of the many, rather than giving the appearance of looking at the interests of a few — including Trump,” Buccino said.

Trump, a billionaire who has never held public office, holds ownership stakes in more than 500 companies worldwide.

He has said he plans to transfer control of his company to three of his adult children, but ethics experts have said conflicts could engulf the new administration if Trump does not liquidate his business holdings.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, called Trump’s investment in the pipeline company “disturbing” and said it fits a pattern evident in Trump’s transition team.

“You have climate (change) deniers, industry lobbyists and energy conglomerates involved in that process,” Grijalva said. “The pipeline companies are gleeful. This is pay-to-play at its rawest.”

A spokeswoman for Trump, Hope Hicks, provided a statement about conflicts of interest to The Associated Press on Friday: “We are in the process of vetting various structures with the goal of the immediate transfer of management of The Trump Organization and its portfolio of businesses to Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump as well as a team of highly skilled executives. This is a top priority at the organization and the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”

Besides Trump, at least two possible candidates for energy secretary also could benefit from the pipeline. Oil billionaire Harold Hamm could ship oil from his company, Continental Resources, through the pipeline, while former Texas Gov. Rick Perry serves on the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners.

North Dakota Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, along with GOP Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer, called on President Barack Obama to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to approve the pipeline crossing, the last large segment of the nearly completed pipeline.

Kelcy Warren, CEO of Dallas-based Energy Transfer, told The Associated Press that he expects Trump to make it easier for his company and others to complete infrastructure projects.

“Do I think it’s going to get easier? Of course,” said Warren, who donated $3,000 to Trump’s campaign, plus $100,000 to a committee supporting Trump’s candidacy and $66,800 to the Republican National Committee.

“If you’re in the infrastructure business,” he said, “you need consistency. That’s where this process has gotten off track.”

The Army Corps of Engineers granted Warren’s company the permits needed for the crossing in July, but the agency decided in September that further analysis was warranted, given the tribe’s concerns. On Nov. 14, the corps called for even more study.

The company has asked a federal judge to declare it has the right to lay pipe under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota. The judge isn’t likely to issue a decision until January at the earliest.

Donald Trump owns stock in Dakota Access oil pipeline

Financial disclosures show GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump owns stock in the company building the Dakota Access oil pipeline, according to a report by The Guardian newspaper.

Federal disclosure forms for Trump, filed in May, show he owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which intends to merge with Enbridge.

That’s down from stock listed at between $500,000 and $1 million in a form a year earlier.

Trump’s disclosure form also shows the presidential candidate holds between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66 stock, which has a one-quarter share of Dakota Access.

Also, The Guardian reported that campaign contribution disclosures show Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren donated $3,000 to Trump’s campaign, plus $100,000 to a committee supporting Trump’s candidacy, as well as $66,800 to the Republican National Committee.

Not so golden: Wealth gap lasting into retirement

William Kistler views retirement like someone tied to the tracks and watching a train coming. It’s looming and threatening, but there’s little he can do.

Kistler, a 63-year-old resident of Golden, Colorado, has been unable to build up a nest egg for himself and his wife with his modest salary at a nonprofit. He has saved little in a 401(k) over the past decade, after spending most of his working life self-employed. That puts him far behind many wealthier Americans approaching retirement.

“There is not enough to retire with,” he said. “It’s completely frightening, to tell you the truth. And I, like a lot of people, try not to think about it too much, which is actually a problem.”

With traditional pensions becoming rarer in the private sector, and lower-paid workers less likely to have access to an employer-provided retirement plan, there is a growing gulf in the retirement savings of the wealthy and people with lower incomes. That, experts say, could exacerbate an already widening wealth gap across America, as more than 70 million baby boomers head into retirement — many of them with skimpy reserves.

Because retirement savings are ever more closely tied to income, the widening gulf between the rich and those with less promises to continue — and perhaps worsen — after workers reach retirement age. That is likely to put pressure on government services and lead even more Americans to work well into what is supposed to be their golden years.

Increasingly, financial security for retirees reflects how much they have accumulated during their working career — things like 401(k) accounts, other savings and home equity.

Highly educated, dual income couples tend to do better under this system. The future looks bleaker for people with less education, lower incomes or health issues, as well as for single parents, said Karen Smith, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.

“We do find rising inequality,” said Smith, who added that it’s a problem if those at the top are seeing disproportionate gains from economic growth.

Incomes for the highest-earning 1 percent of Americans soared 31 percent from 2009 through 2012, after adjusting for inflation, according to data compiled by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at University of California, Berkeley. For everyone else, it inched up an average of 0.4 percent.

Researchers at the liberal Economic Policy Institute say households in the top fifth of income saw median retirement savings increase from $45,539 in 1989 to $160,000 in 2010 in inflation-adjusted dollars. For households in the bottom fifth, median retirement savings were down from $8,433 in 1989 to $8,000 in 2010, adjusted for inflation. The calculations did not include households without retirement savings.

Employment Benefit Research Institute research director Jack VanDerhei found that in households where annual income is less than $25,000, nine in 10 saved less than $10,000, up slightly from 2009. For households with six-figure incomes, 42 percent saved at least $250,000, up from 34 percent five years earlier.

The days of retirees being able to count on set monthly payments from pensions continue to fade among non-government workers. Only 13 percent of private-sector workers now participate in “defined benefit” plans, compared with a third of such workers in 1985. They’ve been eclipsed by “defined contribution” plans, often 401(k)s, in which employers match a portion of employee contributions.

Americans know they need to save for retirement. The trick for many is actually doing it. It’s estimated that about half of private-sector workers don’t take part in a retirement plan at their current job.

“Over the years, all I’ve been able to do, especially as a single parent, is just pay your bills every month,” said Susan McNamara, a 62-year-old adjunct professor from the Boston area. “Anything that’s left over is used up when your car breaks down or when the furnace breaks down. … There’s never anything left over, ever.”

McNamara is divorced and her son is now grown. But she has had heart issues linked to cancer in 2004 and related financial worries. She sold her home to meet expenses. McNamara has a defined contribution plan from past stints as a full-time professor, but its balance is under $50,000.

Or consider Kistler, who makes $41,000 a year working as a benefits counselor for a nonprofit health care provider. He has no substantial savings beyond the 401(k) worth roughly $19,000, and he has debt. He plans to keep working.

Kistler is philosophical about being on the short end of a retirement gap, though he wonders what will happen when boomers in his financial situation begin retiring by the millions.

“This next 10 to 15 years is going to be quite interesting,” he said.

EBRI, a Washington-based nonpartisan research group, projects that more than 55 percent of baby boomers and the generation that follows them, Generation X, will have enough money to last through retirement.

But EBRI also found the least wealthy boomer and Gen X households are far more likely to run short of money in retirement. Under some models, 43 percent of those in the lowest quarter run short of money in the first year of retirement.

VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director, said members of that group are relying mostly on Social Security and lacked consistent access to retirement plans over their careers.

Many of those retirees will find that it won’t be enough, David John of AARP’s Public Policy Institute said, noting the average monthly Social Security retiree benefit last year was about $1,300.

“In the long run, if we have significant numbers of people retiring on Social Security and very little else, there’s going to be a tremendous pressure on state and local governments for additional services, ranging from health to housing to libraries,” John said. “There’s going to be significant pressure on the national government to provide additional support.”

John said a good first step would be to ensure more workers have the ability to save through employer-sponsored retirement plans.

For many, it will mean working to a later age and cutting back.

In Brooklyn, 60-year-old Madeline Smith is already thinking about a modest future. While she has no illusions about living the “little fairy tale” of a cushy retirement, she also is confident she can get by, maybe working part-time, living simply or even renting out her house.

“Sometimes you have to learn to be a little bit more conservative,” she said. “I think a lot of people are learning that now as they get older.”

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Over the barrel: Activists champion 
efforts to divest from fossil-fuel industry

Meet Planet Enemy No. 1: The fossil-fuel industry.

And meet the new sheriff in town: The growing movement to divest ownership of fossil-fuel stock.

The divestment concept is not without precedent. In the 1980s, people around the world withdrew support from companies — and more than a few artists — who did business with South Africa. The campaign spread from college campuses and eventually 155 campuses, 80 municipalities, 25 states and 19 nations took economic action against the apartheid regime. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said the end of apartheid would not have come without international pressure, specifically “the divestment movement of the 1980s.”

Today, the Nobel Peace-Prize winner has called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry.” 

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also endorsed the movement in a speech in May at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

“The scientific data on climate change is overwhelming, the experience of the affected overpowering. The few who still deny the science and argue for inaction of course have the right to hide their face in the sand, but the sand is warming rapidly, and they will soon have to face their children,” Figueres said.

She had praise for others: the institutional investors moving capital away from fossil fuels, the parties involved in the development of a “fossil free” investment index, the creation of a global finance lab in London and the activists in the campus and church campaigns driving divestment from fossil fuel assets. 

Commitments to change

That movement, according to GoFossilFree.org, has resulted in commitments to the going fossil-free campaign from 11 colleges and universities, 37 faith-based groups, 26 foundations, two counties and 28 cities. Included on the commitment list are the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee; Dane County, believed to be the first county in the United States to support the fossil-fuel movement; and Bayfield and Madison, among the first cities in the U.S. to adopt divestment resolutions.

Monona could join the league. The city sustainability committee unanimously approved a proposed resolution earlier this month that the city council is expected to take up this summer. The resolution, which doesn’t go as far as activists had hoped, would set as priorities the reduction of fossil-fuel consumption in municipal operations and the education of residents and business owners about “the importance of reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels.” The resolution also suggests a variety of ways to work toward that goal,” including shareholder advocacy, fossil fuels divestment and reinvestment in renewable energy.

“I’m very proud of Monona for taking this step to not only acknowledge the reality of climate change but to take action on reducing its own fossil fuel use,” stated Monona resident Beth Esser. She’s co-coordinator of 350 Madison, an environmental action group at the forefront of the movement in the state. 

Esser added, “This resolution solidifies the city’s commitment to addressing the harsh realities of our need to quit using fossil fuels if we want to preserve a livable future for our children and our grandchildren.”

Fossil-free advocates also are campaigning throughout the University of Wisconsin system, on the campuses of private schools such as Carthage College and Lawrence University, and for changes in the state retirement fund.

Campaigners in some cases want a pledge that institutions or foundations will freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel assets and divest within five years. Others are promoting resolutions to support the cause, which received a nod from President Barack Obama in mid-June, when he told graduates at the University of California-Irvine, “You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.”

Do the math

Divestment advocates maintain that math is crucial to the argument for going fossil free. The fossil fuel industry has enough coal, oil and gas reserves to produce, if burned, 2,795 gigatons of CO2, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts. That’s five times more CO2 than can be released to maintain 2 degrees of warming. And most governments agree that any warming above 2 degrees Celsius would be unsafe.

“The fossil-fuel industry’s business model is built on using up reserves that should not be used. We cannot invest in this recklessness,” said Gregory Ercherd, who is involved in the fossil-free movement in Portland, Oregon. “We have moral, ethical obligations to divest from fossil fuels.”

“And we have a spiritual obligation,” added Ercherd, observing the surge in support for the movement this summer among religious institutions. The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly voted to divest. The University of Dayton in Ohio became the first Catholic institution to join the movement. Quaker, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations have voted to divest. And, in early July, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of more than 300 churches in 150 countries, endorsed divestment.

“This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today ‘this far and no further,’” McKibben said after the vote.

Serene Jones is president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, which is committed to divesting its $108.4 endowment of fossil fuel funds. She said earlier this month, “Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole. As a seminary dedicated to social justice, we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”

Portfolio for the planet

“There’s no threat greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels,” according to Bill McKibben, leader of the environmental grassroots movement known as 350.org.

 “The (fossil-fuel) industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they’re planning to use it,” he wrote.

Earlier this year, 350.org and two asset management firms — Green Century Capital Management and Trillium Asset Management — released a guide people through divesting.

“Since fossil fuel corporations are determined to burn their carbon reserves, which are five times the amount that scientists say our planet can safely absorb, there is a growing concern that investors may face a ‘carbon-bubble’ if carbon restrictions are put into place,” said Leslie Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital. “With so many unknowns in the future, why not avoid the widely reported possible risk of stranded assets?”

“Actions taken by individuals and municipalities to transition away from fossil fuels send an important message to industry and political leaders and encourage further efforts regionally nationally,” said Adam Gundlach, a Monona resident and fossil-free advocate. “The transition becomes a reality with each decision we make and each step we take toward a sustainable existence.”

On the Web…

350.org: http://350.org

GoFossilFree: http://gofossilfree.org

350 Madison: http://350madison.wordpress.com

Green Century: http://greencentury.com 

Fossil-free faq

WHAT IS DIVESTMENT? It is the opposite of an investment. It is getting rids of stocks, bonds, investment funds.

WHAT DOES THE DIVESTMENT MOVEMENT WANT? For institutional leaders to freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities.

HOW CAN DIVESTING IMPACT MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR COMPANIES? The top 500 university endowments hold nearly $400 billion. Plus, there are state pension funds, as well as investments from churches, synagogues and mosques.

INVESTING IS ABOUT MAKING MONEY. IS DIVESTING RISKY? Fossil fuel companies, presently, are extremely profitable. But they also can be risky investments — energy markets are volatile and their business models rest on emitting more carbon into the atmosphere than civilization can handle.

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