Anti-pipeline bill advances, would limit eminent domain

Friday, March 10, 2023

DES MOINES — An anti-pipeline bill passed a committee vote Tuesday (Feb. 28) and is heading to a full vote in the Iowa House of Representatives.

The bill would require CO2 pipelines to secure 90 percent of their route before pursuing eminent domain, delay them until federal safety regulations are updated and provide legal recourse for crop damages.

“I support the bill because we need to do something to stop this. Doing nothing isn’t good enough,” said Rep. Zach Dieken (R-Granville).

Dieken co-sponsored the bill when it was introduced to the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 20. Tuesday’s 12-7 vote lets the full House vote on it later this legislative session.

“I am saddened our governing officials can’t do better for the landowners. Again, we don’t have time to do nothing. I hope this compromise is enough to stop the pipeline,” Dieken said.

House File 565 does not ban eminent domain for the pipelines. Private companies such as Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures would still be able to seek land seizures if they cover at least 90 percent of their routes via voluntary easements with landowners.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Hull) has favored a 90 percent threshold since the beginning of the session. Unlike Dieken, he sits on the committee and voted for the bill.

“My constituents have made it clear that they are concerned about the potential use of eminent domain,” Wheeler said. “This bill strikes a good balance for the landowners who are looking for a level playing field in negotiations.”

Dieken took a stronger stance.

“I wish it was 100 percent, but I was willing to get behind any effort to stop this. This is an issue that needs being addressed right now,” he said.

The clock is ticking for legislative action on the CO2 pipelines. In the fall, Summit Carbon Solutions has a hearing scheduled with the Iowa Utilities Board, the state authority to greenlight the project. Summit officials have pegged spring 2024 to start construction.

Emma Schmit has been one of the leading voices against the pipelines, helping organize landowners and demonstrations “against public risk for private gain,” as she put it.

While Tuesday’s vote was progress, she and her group, Food & Water Watch, prefer a full eminent domain ban like Dieken.

“For more than two years, the threat of hazardous carbon pipelines has been a ticking time bomb for Iowans’ fighting these corporate profiteers off their land. Now there’s a deadline and the clock is still ticking. The time for legislative action to safeguard our health and safety is now,” Schmit said.

Anti-pipeline urgency extends far outside Des Moines. Wheeler was in Rock Rapids last Saturday for a constituent forum. The visit was open to all inquiries, but the conversation was dominated by the pipelines.

Corrine Bonnema lives in Luverne, Minnesota, but owns land on the pipeline route outside Inwood. At the question-and-answer session, she repeated many of the safety concerns anti-pipeliners have.

“The carbon pipelines are hazardous. They’re not telling you the truth in what happens when there’s a leak,” Bonnema said.

Summit and Navigator have maintained that a break in their line would be exceedingly unlikely and that damage would be minimal and not explosive.

Howard Mogler of Lester, far from both proposed routes, argued that the pipelines are necessary to keep the biofuels industry afloat.

Through a process called carbon capture, the infrastructure would take the CO2 byproduct from ethanol plants and store it underground, shrinking the fuel’s carbon footprint. Pipeline stakeholders say this would make ethanol more marketable in an energy market looking to go greener, especially in California, a major customer.

“Naysayers have never built anything. All they do is cause problems,” Mogler said.

Wheeler responded to the market argument, saying the Legislature should listen to Iowans first.

“There have been, every week, landowners across the state that have come down to the Capitol, all parts of the state and northwest Iowa, come down the Capitol and they’re protesting or they’re lobbying legislators saying, ‘This is not OK, and here’s why,’” Wheeler said. “People aren’t buying the impetus for the project. They’re thinking that we’re just looking at California, New York, New Jersey and Europe and saying, ‘You guys win on this issue, and we’ll just bow down.’ I don’t think they like that.”

Sen. Jeff Taylor (R-Sioux Center) joined Wheeler in Rock Rapids. He has introduced several proposals in the upper chamber but has not got so much as a hearing. He said anti-pipeline action likely would have to stem from the House passing House File 565.

“That’s going to put pressure on the Senate leadership to respond. If House leaders are behind the bill, Senate leaders aren’t going to be able to pretend this problem doesn’t exist,” Taylor said.

There has been bipartisan support and pushback. Democrats on the judiciary committee split with only one voting for the bill and five against. Two committee Republicans also voted “no.”

Dieken shared Taylor’s outlook, saying the bill going through the full House will keep the issue live.

“I think if it passes the House, it will pass the Senate,” Dieken said. “This is such a clear breach of property rights, unproven suspicious processes, and unconstitutional money grab that both parties can get on board with it. Pretty rare, I think it shows the dark money and power behind these projects.”

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