Acknowledging ‘strong feelings on both sides,’ Iowa corn association backs carbon capture pipelines

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Sunday, September 11, 2022

A group representing about 7,000 Iowa corn growers says it supports efforts to build pipelines that will be used to sequester carbon dioxide from dozens of ethanol plants across the state in an effort to reduce the renewable fuel’s climate impact.

The discussion leading to the decision in late August was an emotional one, said Lance Lillibridge, the Iowa Corn Growers Association’s outgoing president. But the “overwhelming majority in the room” supported building carbon capture pipelines to cut the carbon dioxide emissions tied to ethanol production.

Three companies have proposed building hundreds of miles of carbon capture pipelines across Iowa, the nation’s leading producer of both ethanol and the corn used to manufacture it. About half the state’s annual harvest is used to make the biofuel.

A sign reading "No easement" and "No eminent domain" in opposition to a carbon capture and sequestration pipeline are seen, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Linn County, Iowa.
A sign reading “No easement” and “No eminent domain” in opposition to a carbon capture and sequestration pipeline are seen, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Linn County, Iowa.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen

Lillibridge said the pipelines are key to the association’s mission to “support the long-term profitability of corn farmers.” And pipeline supporters say the projects will enable ethanol and other energy-intensive agricultural industries remain viable as the nation seeks to cut net greenhouse emissions in half by 2030 to address climate change.

The companies — Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions — propose capturing carbon dioxide emissions from agricultural industrial facilities, liquefying them under pressure and transporting them via the pipelines to either North Dakota or Illinois, where they will be permanently sequestered a mile underground.

Possible use of eminent domain has been a concern

The projects have run into intense opposition from farmers, residents, landowners and others. Many have expressed concern that state regulators could grant the pipeline companies eminent domain powers, enabling developers to force unwilling landowners to sell them access to their land for the projects.

The companies have said they are working with landowners to obtain voluntary easements.

The corn growers association didn’t mention eminent domain in its statement, but the group said it supported landowners’ rights and protections.

In addition to eminent domain concerns, farmers have expressed doubt the companies would fully restore underground drainage systems disturbed by pipeline construction or restore affected farmland to its existing productivity. The group, however, said farmers and landowners can negotiate land restoration requirements that are higher than the state minimums.

“We know that our farmers have strong feelings on both sides of this decision, making it a difficult one, and respect that landowners have the right to receive just compensation for the taking of property and the right to participate in good-faith negotiations with acquiring companies — including those with the carbon pipeline,” the association said in a statement to the Des Moines Register.

Visiting the Farm Progress Show near Boone this week, Lillibridge said state regulators can grant eminent domain powers for a variety of projects, including renewable energy installations such as wind turbine farms that generate 25 megawatts or more of electricity.

Jennifer Easler, Iowa’s consumer advocate on energy issues, agreed. But she said she doesn’t know of a solar, wind or other renewable project in Iowa that’s sought eminent domain. She noted that developers of power transmission projects also can seek eminent domain powers.

Lillibridge said the nation will need liquid fuel for “many, many, many years to come,” despite the Biden administration’s push for electric vehicles to reduce climate change’s impact.

Signs reading “No easement” and “No eminent domain” in opposition to a carbon capture and sequestration pipeline are seen, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Linn County, Iowa.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen

The pipeline companies say the projects can substantially cut ethanol’s carbon footprint. Summit, for example, says carbon sequestration would lower ethanol’s carbon footprint to net zero by 2030.

“If we lower the carbon intensity score of liquid fuel, it makes us competitive not only domestically, but in global ethanol markets,” said Lillibridge, who farms and raises cattle in eastern Iowa.

An ethanol-backed study shows that renewable fuel production in Iowa is tied to about 46,000 jobs, as the spending ripples through the economy. Last year, Iowa produced 4.4 billion gallons of ethanol.

Iowa also is the nation’s largest producer of biodiesel, using oil pressed from about a quarter of its soybean crop. The state is the nation’s second-largest soybean grower.

Byproducts from both ethanol and biodiesel production are used in other industries. For example, dried distillers grains, a high-protein byproduct from making ethanol, is fed to cattle and other livestock.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at deller@registermedia.com or 515-284-8457. 

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