(CNSNews.com) - Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan told Congress on Tuesday that his company does not put profits over people.
But some committee Democrats refuted that, criticizing Wells Fargo for financing industries that they oppose, including the gun industry, private prisons, and oil pipelines.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) criticized Wells Fargo for financing "the caging of children" at ICE detention facilities, a charge he rejected.
She also asked Sloan why his bank shouldn't be held responsible for the "damage incurred by climate change," since Wells Fargo was among the banks that financed the Dakota Access pipeline.
"I don't know how you'd calculate that," Sloan told her.
'Human rights abuses and environmental disasters'
At the beginning of her remarks, Ocasio-Cortez told Sloan, "I'm interested in the human rights abuses and environmental disasters that some say are financed by your bank, Wells Fargo."
Ocasio-Cortez pointed to private prisons and for-profit immigration detention centers, asking Sloan, "Why was the bank involved in the caging of children and financing the caging of children to begin with?"
"I don't know how to answer that question because we weren't," Sloan replied. He said Wells Fargo was involved in financing one of the private prison companies "for a period of time," but "we're not anymore."
As for the other firm, Sloan said, "I'm not familiar with the specific assertion that you're making. But we weren't directly involved in that."
Ocasio-Cortez told Sloan, "So these companies run private detention facilities, run by ICE, which is involved in caging children. But I'll move on."
And so she did, right to the fossil fuel industry:
"Mr. Sloan, Wells Fargo was also an investor, a major investor, in the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline. They were prime investors and lenders to companies building these pipelines in defiance of Standing Rock Sioux's treaty rights to protect its water and sacred lands. They warned early on, the Lakota Sioux warned early on that the pipeline was unstable and bound to leak. Despite that, it was built anyway, and it has leaked five times. And the Keystone XL in particular had one leak that leaked 210,000 gallons across South Dakota.
"Since Wells Fargo financed the building of this pipeline in an environmentally unstable way, why shouldn't the bank be held responsible for financing the cleanup of the disasters from these projects?" she asked.
"Which pipeline are you referring to?" Sloan asked her.
"Either," Ocasio-Cortez said.
"So we were not involved in the financing of the XL pipeline. We were one of the 17 or 19 banks that was involved in the financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
"Okay, so Wells Fargo hasn't financed any company associated the Keystone XL Pipeline?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.
"No, I didn't say that," Sloan replied. "I said we're not involved in financing that pipeline specifically."
"Okay," Ocasio-Cortez said. "So let's focus on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Should Wells Fargo be held responsible for the damages incurred by climate change due to the financing of fossil fuels and these projects?"
"I don't know how you'd calculate that, Congresswoman," Sloan said.
"Say, from spills," she told Sloan, "or when we have to reinvest in infrastructure, building sea walls from the erosion of -- from the erosion of infrastructure, or cleanups, wildfires, et cetera?"
"Related to that pipeline?" Sloan asked. "I'm not aware that there's been any of what you described that has occurred."
“How about the cleanups from the leaks of the Dakota Access Pipeline?
"I'm not aware of the leaks associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline that you're describing," Sloan said.
"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?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.
"Because we don't operate the pipeline," Sloan replied. "We provide financing to the company that's operating the pipeline. Our responsibility is to ensure that at the time we make that loan that that customer -- and we have a group of people in Wells Fargo, including an environmental oversight group headed by one of my colleagues who used to be at the EPA--"
Ocasio-Cortez interrupted him: "So, one question, why did Wells Fargo finance this pipeline when it was widely seen to be environmentally unstable?"
"Again, the reason that we were one of the 17 or 19 banks that financed that is because our team reviewed the environmental impact and we concluded that was a risk that we were willing to take," Sloan told Ocasio-Cortez.
The gavel came down, and that's where the Democrat Socialist's questioning ended.