Local climate change activists received a major endorsement in their campaign to divest Eugene from fossil fuels.
Eugene Humans Rights Commission members voted Tuesday to support an ordinance advising the city against renewing its current contract with U.S. Bank, which ends in October 2018. 350 Eugene, the local group that wrote the proposed ordinance, will present it to Eugene City Council at 7:30 pm Monday, May 22, in Harris Hall for a decision.
350 Eugene will have a rally at 6:30 pm that same day at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in support of the ordinance.
Members of the Human Rights Commission hope their endorsement of the ordinance, which is based on a similar one passed in Seattle, gives the City Council a compelling reason to adopt it.
Though the ordinance would not be binding — ultimately is the unelectedcity manager’s decision to award city contracts, not City Council’s — it would further underscore Eugene’s commitment to opposing the construction of oil pipelines that would counter efforts to combat climate change. U.S. Bank is heavily invested in such pipelines, including the Dakota Access and Keystone XL, which would put the safety of indigenous people and their land at risk in the event of a spill.
“We have done a great deal to try to bring real application to our support for the people who are indigenous, and this is reality,” Human Rights Commission vice-chair Jennifer Frenzer said at the meeting. “When you get down to brass tacks, if you just have an indigenous rights day and don’t really back it up with actions, then that doesn’t change much. This is a way for us to move forward under that banner of Indigenous Rights Day and really create applications of what it looks like having the backs of people.”
Emily Semple, the City Council’s liaison to the Human Rights Commission, says there are many reasons to divest from all large banks, U.S. Bank included. She says she’d prefer to see the city do its money management with local credit unions instead. Eugene Municipal Code requires that city contracts give preference to goods and services produced in state.
In addition to potentially endangering indigenous people, U.S. Bank has a history of deceptive business practices. It paid the U.S. government $200 million in 2014 to resolve allegations that it knowingly underwrote mortgage loans that did not meet federal requirements, contributing to mass foreclosure throughout the country during the financial crisis of 2008. It paid $55 million to settle a class action suit involving allegations of collecting high overdraft fees on debit card transactions and $57 million to resolve allegations it charged 420,000 customers for identity protection services they never received.
In 2016 the City Council passed a resolution proclaiming the city’s support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which it said ran contrary to the city’s values regarding social equity and environmental health.
Human Rights Commissioner Aria Seligmann said the ordinance “really goes to the mission of the commission, and I support it for that reason.”