Activists Use Divestment App To Target Dakota Pipeline Supporters

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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A San Francisco tech company has created an open application allowing investors to divest all Dakota Access Pipeline investments from their portfolios.

OpenInvest, a startup tech company founded by Joshua Levin, designed a feature that automatically purges an investor’s portfolio of companies helping to fund the multi-state pipeline. The portfolio is then rebalanced with a different set of investments.

“Assets are one of the most powerful ways you can shape the world,” Levin told reporters Friday. “We wanted to support people’s efforts to fight back.”

Levin said he launched the feature shortly after President Donald Trump issued executive orders approving both the DAPL and the equally contentious Keystone XL. The Army Corps of Engineers, through the Obama administration, initially rejected the Dakota route in December.

Citi Group and TD Bank of Canada, among others, are being urged by environmentalists and members of the Standing Rock Sioux to stop backing Energy Transfer Partners, the company responsible for constructing the DAPL. The tribe believes the project could poison Standing Rock’s water supply – it runs underneath Lake Oahe.

Levin believes he’s found a way to make it easier for opponents to force the banks into changing their ways.

“Your money and investments powerfully impact the world. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and others are counting on you not caring to get away with profiting from the destruction of Native lands,” reads a blog post on the OpenInvest website. “It’s time to take responsibility and start fighting back.”

OpenInvest also allows investors to divest from energy companies altogether.

Analysts and economists who study the nuts and bolts under-girding divestment, on the other hand, suggest it’s simply impossible to have a mass oil purge, especially given the fact that nearly every portion of the economy is either reliant on or operated by fossil fuels.

“Divesting from fossil fuels is an incredibly complicated undertaking,” Todd Kendall, an economist with economic consulting company Compass Lexecon, told a panel in 2016 hosted by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers.

Fossil fuels and their corresponding technologies, they say, are peppered throughout commingled mutual and private equity funds and therefore it’s difficult to distinguish between green energy, oil assets, or any other assets for that matter.

Still, some entities are willing to take the risk. Seattle’s City Council, for one, voted to end all ties to Wells Fargo because of the financial institution’s ties to the controversial line, which will shuttle 500,000 barrels of Bakken oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

The council will remove $3 billion in city funds from the banking giant. Council members want to turn the bidding process into a race to see which banking institution is committed to “social responsibility.”

Council members made the move despite not having any financial institution waiting in the wings helping the city with its finances.

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