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Iowa carbon pipeline opponents decry ‘sham’ process

Posted at 11:06 AM, Jul 13, 2022

Those who oppose liquid carbon pipelines in Iowa confronted on Tuesday the regulatory board members charged with approving such plans, and some insinuated their votes were bought with money and political clout.

Three pipelines are proposed that would lay a total of more than 1,500 miles of pipe across the state.

“This process is a sham; its outcome is preordained,” Jon Green, a Johnson County supervisor, told the three-member Iowa Utilities Board at its regular monthly meeting.

Board members have repeatedly declined to publicly reveal how they might rule on eminent domain requests that will almost certainly be required to build the pipelines. Eminent domain uses government authority to force property owners to accept easements on their property for projects deemed to be of public benefit.

Summit increases voluntary agreements

Summit Carbon Solutions has made the most progress toward obtaining a hazardous liquid pipeline permit from the state. It has finalized agreements with landowners of nearly 40% of its 680-mile route in Iowa, said Courtney Ryan, a spokesperson for the company.

That’s a sizable increase from a little more than a month ago, when the company reported it had obtained voluntary easements for about 30% of the route. But many landowners have indicated they will not relent in their opposition.

The board has said it will not set a weekslong hearing to consider the Summit permit until the company provides a list of properties for which it will request eminent domain. To grant the power of eminent domain, the IUB needs to determine that the pipelines benefit the general public.

Proponents say the pipelines will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol plants — there are about 40 of them in Iowa — to boost the long-term viability of the fuel. Ethanol is an important market for crop farmers because more than half of the state’s corn goes to produce it.

Opponents say the pipelines primarily benefit the pipeline companies that are poised to earn billions of dollars, mainly due to federal tax incentives for sequestering carbon dioxide. Those tax credits go to the ethanol plants where the carbon is captured and compressed into a liquid, and the plants pay the pipeline companies to transport it to Illinois or North Dakota where it is pumped deep underground.

“If you join us, the rest of your life you can hold your head high knowing that you didn’t have a price,” James Norris, a Montgomery County landowner, told the board on Tuesday. “The answer is simple. You’re either with big corporations trying to buy favor or with hard-working Iowans.”

Board spokesman: Decisions are based on the law and evidence

In response to the allegations that the board is influenced by money or personal and political connections, Don Tormey, a spokesperson for the board, told Iowa Capital Dispatch: “The IUB’s decisions in such dockets are based on Iowa law and the evidence contained in the record of each individual docket.”

The remarks of about 20 pipeline opponents who spoke during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting are not used as evidence for the IUB’s consideration of the pipeline permits, warned Geri Huser, the board’s chairperson. However, the bulk of what was said was a reiteration of written objections that have been filed in the Summit and Navigator CO2 Ventures dockets.

“I know we have to file in the open docket, but we appreciate the opportunity just to speak with human beings for something that’s so important,” said Jessica Wiskus, a Lisbon Democrat and candidate for the Iowa Senate.

A third company, Wolf Carbon Solutions, recently began its permit process with the IUB for a smaller pipeline in eastern Iowa that would run about 90 miles and connect to two ethanol plants. Navigator revised its route in June and is set to hold about a dozen meetings in August in the affected counties, after which it could formally petition for a permit. Summit petitioned in January.

Opponents say the pipelines cause long-lasting or permanent damage to the state’s farmland and that they pose a significant health risk to people. A pipeline break last year in Mississippi sickened dozens because carbon dioxide is heavier than air. It can remain close to the ground and overwhelm people.

Board denies request to limit landowner contacts

In May, the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter asked the IUB to limit Summit’s contact with landowners who are unwilling to sign voluntary easements. The club sought to limit contacts to three times, insisting the seemingly relentless contacts via phone calls, text messages and mailings constitute harassment. But last week, the IUB denied that request because it might interfere with Summit’s ability to make “good faith” efforts to negotiate, which is a requirement before the board can decide eminent domain requests.

“Each individual negotiation is likely to be different, and imposing an arbitrary limit of three contacts may not be sufficient for the parties to reach an agreement or conclude that no agreement can be reached,” the board said in its July 5 ruling.

Summit has regularly criticized the Sierra Club for being anti-ethanol.

“Summit Carbon Solutions will allow ethanol plant partners to sell their product at a premium in the growing number of states and countries that have adopted low carbon fuel standards, which will strengthen the marketplace for corn growers and keep land values strong in the years to come,” Jess Harris, director of public affairs, said Tuesday morning in response to the pipeline opponents’ protest at the IUB meeting.

Jess Mazour, a conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club, said: “A year into this project, it’s clear that no one wants carbon pipelines except those who stand to benefit.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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