Climate, ethanol, jobs, profits at issue in C02 pipeline debate

Source: By James Q. Lynch, Gazette Des Moines Bureau • Posted: Monday, April 4, 2022

Climate, ethanol, jobs, profits at issue in C02 pipeline debate

More than 100 people attended a Statehouse rally Tuesday in Des Moines to show their opposition to the use of eminent domain for the construction of carbon capture pipelines across Iowa.  James Q. Lynch The Gazette

DES MOINES — Proposals for three more pipelines across Iowa are highlighting divisions over the use of eminent domain to acquire access to private property, and producing alliances between groups more often at odds with one another.

On one side are investors and developers who say they want to deliver the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from Iowa ethanol plants to underground sequestration sites. In an unusual pairing, they’ve been joined by some labor unions.

“Pipelines are a substantial part of our work,” Richie Schmidt, president of Local 177 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said last Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol. LiUNA’s 3,500 Iowa members include pipefitters, welders, heavy equipment operators and truck drivers.

Schmidt and about two dozen fellow union members holding “local jobs mean local paychecks” signs were vastly outnumbered at a Statehouse rally organized by the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter and a coalition opposing the use of eminent domain for pipeline construction.

About 100 “unusual bedfellows” — environmentalists, farmers, landowners and property rights advocates as well as opponents of large-scale farming and ethanol — called for the Iowa Utilities Board to reject construction of the pipelines, which Ames environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensperger called a “sewer system for the fossil fuel industry.”

“Give me a break,” Bill Gerhard of the Iowa State Building & Construction Trades Council said while listening to Raffensperger. Pipelines would provide a safer and cleaner alternative to moving CO2 by rail and truck. The benefits of the pipelines “ought to strike a note with environmentalists,” he said while holding an “ethanol = energy independence” sign.

Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions/ADM each have announced proposals to build underground pipelines that would carry CO2 from ethanol plants in Iowa to sequestration sites in North Dakota and Illinois.

Summit, the only one so far to file its route plans for approval by Iowa regulators, could connect a dozen Iowa ethanol plants with others to remove as much as 12 million tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere. That would be equivalent to taking more than 2.5 million cars off the road annually, Gerhard said. That would improve the economics of the corn-based fuel and reduce the carbon footprint of ethanol production.

However, unlike the CO2 in the breath people exhale or what they drink in carbonated beverages, the CO2 in pipelines is concentrated and pressurized, pipeline opponents warn.

“Those differences pose unique safety hazards and greatly increase the possible affected area” if a pipeline should rupture, according to a Pipeline Safety Trust report issued in March. “CO2 pipeline ruptures can impact areas measured in miles, not feet.”

Also, CO2 is a potentially lethal asphyxiant. If released from a pipeline, it would be heavier than air and high-rate releases would form clouds of cold dense gas fog, according to the report. As it warms, CO2 plumes could flow considerable distances unobserved, displacing oxygen while settling or filling in low areas.

Somewhere between the pipeline companies and those who agree with Raffensperger are people like Mike Main of Sioux City, who waved a “No Easement. No Eminent Domain” sign in the Capitol rotunda. His 80 acres of Woodbury County farmland could be crossed by a $4.5 billion, 2,000-mile Iowa-to-North Dakota pipeline proposed by Iowa-based Summit.

Main’s opposition to pipeline, in general, is “soft.”

“But I’m deadest against eminent domain for the gain of private investors,” he said.

That may be the glue that binds the coalition.

Companies proposing pipelines “cannot build this or run this or make their money without using other people’s property,” according to Raffensperger, executive director of the Science & Environmental Health Network and former state chair of the Sierra Club.

Individual landowners like Main are facing private corporations in a “race to steal new federal tax credits intended to be used in developing green solutions,” according to the Iowa Pipeline Resistance Coalition.

However, Jesse Harris of LS2, a Des Moines public affairs firm representing Summit, said opponents are getting ahead of themselves. In its application with the Iowa Utilities Board, Summit did request the use of eminent domain, but said it uncertain it will be needed.

“In my mind it’s far too early to be having conversations about eminent domain,” he said. “This is this is all about finding voluntary agreements with landowners that are beneficial for them and also allow our project to move forward.”

In addition to utilities board informational meetings in counties on the proposed routes, Summit has more meetings scheduled with landowners in the weeks ahead, he said.

“Anytime we can have a conversation with a landowner we think we can move the ball forward in terms of addressing their concerns about the route of the pipeline (and) about other issues that are out there,” Harris said. As of Jan. 31, Summit had obtained 290 voluntary easements, according to the utilities board.

During the multiple public informational meetings conducted for both the proposed Summit and Navigator pipelines, eminent domain was discussed by utilities board staff, spokesman Don Tormey said. “Just because it was mentioned at the informational meetings does not mean the companies must use eminent domain.”

In the case of the Summit pipeline that could impact more than 8,000 acres of cropland, over half the counties on the route have filed objections.

The Iowa Legislature is involved following the House’s adoption of an amendment by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, to prohibit the Iowa Utilities Board from scheduling eminent domain hearings for pipeline construction until after Feb. 1, 2023.

Historically, both parties have favored eminent domain limits. Iowa Republicans, according to their platform, “oppose federal or state government taking private property away from the owner for the use of another private party.” Iowa Democrats oppose “eminent domain abuse.”

In 2006, after the landmark Kelo v. New London U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded the permissible use of eminent domain from “public use” to “public benefit,” the Iowa House and Senate voted 90-8 and 41-8, respectively, to override former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s veto of a bill that would limit local governments’ power to seize private property.

In Iowa, a company requesting the right of eminent domain must establish the project is “rationally related to a conceivable public purpose.” Tormey said. “The IUB uses precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court as well as IUB precedent to determine whether or not eminent domain should be granted.”

Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City, questioned the value of Kaufmann’s amendment that merely “kicks the can down the road … but doesn’t remove the threat of eminent domain.”

“Eminent domain is always politically charged whether you’re talking about a pipeline or a shopping mall,” Hansen said. “It’s a multi-headed issue because you have possibly unwilling landowners and there are questions whether this is a public good or being done solely for private profit.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, agrees the amendment doesn’t remove the possible use of eminent domain. It does, however, give landowners “the assurance that you’re not going to wake up one day and all of a sudden all these proceedings are happening, and you feel like the world’s crashing down.”

None of the pipeline routes cross his family’s Butler County farmland, but two of the lines could pass through territory Grassley represents in the Legislature. Constituents haven’t been bashful making their feelings known, he said.

Some landowners have reached voluntary agreements granting pipeline companies easements across their property. Some are in negotiations and others are resisting, he said.

“So there are people on all sides of the issue,” Grassley said. “I would hope people would respect the fact the Legislature is not coming in and trying to pick winners and losers. We’re letting the process play itself out.”

Kaufmann’s amendment doesn’t go as far as legislation freshman Sen. Rich Taylor, R-Sioux Center, proposed to strip the utilities board’s authority to grant eminent domain for private companies. He calls that power unconstitutional, but conceded the Kelo case created a “broader, mushier” interpretation.

“It’s wrong, unjust to seize property like that,” Taylor said.

Kaufmann’s amendment is on a budget bill likely to be amended by the Senate. If senators don’t like it, they will have to vote to remove it.

“Those who support eminent domain (for private use) are swimming upstream against popular opinion,” said Taylor, who will support Kaufmann’s amendment.

Until he sees the bill in final form, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, doesn’t know what position his caucus will take.

“But I do think that there’s a general agreement that we should be looking really closely at this issue, given how much energy we’re seeing on it around the state,” he said.