Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan was grilled on Capitol Hill over the bank’s wealth of recent scandals — notably its fake accounts scandal Sloan was hired to clean up. But what Sloan doesn’t clean up is the oil spills resulting from Wells Fargo investments, as illustrated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).
Ocasio-Cortez framed her questioning as a rebuttal to Sloan’s assertion that Wells Fargo doesn’t put profits before people.
“Why does Wells Fargo continue to put profits over people by financing companies that are making weapons that are literally killing our children and our neighbors?” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) asked.
“We don’t put profits over people,” Sloan responded. “We just don’t believe that it is a good idea to encourage banks to enforce legislation that doesn’t exist.”
When directly asked about oil spills resulting from the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Wells Fargo helped finance, Sloan wasn’t even aware a leak had occurred. It had. The pipeline — DAPL for short — had leaked five times in 2017 alone.
Sloan had no idea.
.@RepAOC @AOC: "So, hypothetically, if there was a leak from the Dakota Access Pipeline, why shouldn't Wells Fargo pay for the cleanup of it, since it paid for the construction of the pipeline itself?"@WellsFargo CEO Timothy Sloan: "Because we don't operate the pipeline." pic.twitter.com/TqXQD0WGwA
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 12, 2019
Wells Fargo provided $120 million in financing for DAPL, and is profiting off of that investment. It isn’t as though other banks haven’t stepped away from the Dakota Access project — they have. And Wells Fargo has faced consequences for its continued support of the controversial pipeline.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez asked Sloan to defend why his company should profit from the pipeline but shouldn’t be liable when things go wrong.
The right has punched back calling that argument “dumb,” comparing it to holding car loan holders liable for accidents, but the Congresswoman’s line of questioning was writ large about Wells Fargo’s questionable morality as it relates to financing projects, as well as the lack of motivation the bank has to see it invests in stable and secure projects.
To the contrary, Wells Fargo has backed many equally dangerous and destructive pipeline projects since the DAPL controversy began. That includes a set of loans totaling $1.5 billion to TransCanada — the corporation behind the Keystone XL pipeline.
To that end, Ocasio-Cortez also highlighted Wells Fargo investments in for-profit prisons and companies that operate ICE detainment centers that have been accused of caging children. She also highlighted its investments in predatory payday lending.
Instead of being accountable for the businesses they finance, Sloan has handed that responsibility to the businesses themselves. Wells Fargo should hold no liability, he argued, because they don’t operate the payday lender, or the pipeline, or the prison.
They just reap profits.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.