Eminent domain concerns cloud pipeline proposals

Source: By Cassidy Walter, Successful Farming • Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Projects boost carbon sequestration for the ethanol industry.

Three carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) pipelines are proposed to crisscross the Midwest, collecting CO2 from ethanol plants and other partners to permanently isolate it underground. Stakeholder response has ranged from dissent to praise, but the possible use of eminent domain has landowners particularly fired up.

“Unfortunately, [eminent domain] has been painted and mischaracterized as something that is a trump card, and that is absolutely not the case,” says Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of government and public affairs at Navigator CO2 Ventures, one of the three pipeline companies.

Many landowners have expressed concern eminent domain, the right of government to take private property for public use, will be abused to bring these pipelines to fruition.

“From a sheer business perspective, eminent domain doesn’t save us time, doesn’t save us money, and doesn’t build good relationships with the folks we’re trying to work with,” Burns-Thompson says. “It just makes sense for us to navigate the process in a collaborative, voluntary fashion as much as possible.”

Summit Carbon Solutions and Wolf Carbon Solutions, the other pipeline companies, have expressed a similar sentiment. Wolf intends to replicate its success of a line built in Alberta, Canada, without eminent domain.


Source of Fear

Garth Griffin and his father have negotiated easements on his land for three different pipeline projects. The New Hampton, Iowa farmer also went through an eminent domain proceeding when the State of Iowa was widening a road.

He felt the state wasn’t treating him fairly. The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) agreed and increased his compensation for the parcel.

Griffin recently refused to negotiate with a CCS pipeline agent over a parcel he owns near a residential area. He says the company has since rearranged the route, but originally he was told the land would just be taken by eminent domain.

If it came to that, Griffin knows his rights as a landowner. He worries about farmers who don’t.

“You say these words [eminent domain] and they are shaking at their ankles,” he says. “They’re throwing a lot of money around, and it’s very easy for the farmer to take it.”

What Landowners Should Know

While every state has its own process for handling eminent domain, Todd Janzen, president of Janzen Schroeder Agricultural Law, confirmed landowners have the right to be compensated for use of their land at fair market value.

Also, while the pipeline company is paying for the use of the land, the farmer still owns the land.

“Ultimately, once the pipeline is in and functioning, if it’s running on a cornfield, you should be able to raise corn on that field without any hiccups,” Janzen says.

In Iowa, a state touched by all three proposed projects, requests for eminent domain are handled by IUB, and landowners have the opportunity to oppose the move in a formal hearing. Summit has begun filing eminent domain requests for 60% of its planned route in Iowa. Jesse Harris, director of public affairs at Summit, says this is a standard part of the process before a permit hearing but the company remains focused on negotiating voluntary easements.


Protecting Land

Hand in hand with eminent domain are concerns about land restoration. In the wake of the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the State of Iowa updated regulations on how land must be restored following pipeline installation.

Burns-Thompson describes the updates as “refined restoration regulations.” She notes other states have similar restoration standards that are regularly updated.

“Our charge is to leave that property at or in better condition than how we found it,” she says.

Landowners and CCS companies alike emphasize the importance of communication and listening to landowners’ concerns about the entire process.

“I welcome all the tough questions and I hope we will continue to have these conversations,” Burns-Thompson says. “I come from an Iowa farm. I absolutely understand the value that goes into the land is more than just dollars and cents.”

Why Capture Carbon?

Supporters of the CCS pipelines say their use will secure a future for ethanol and corn demand as the world seeks to decarbonize.

“The bottom line is more and more of our markets, both domestically and internationally, are demanding lower carbon biofuels,” says Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. “If we want to continue to provide demand for Iowa farmers and be able to run these plants and add value to the corn, we’re going to have to find ways to reduce our carbon intensity score.”

Kelly Nieuwenhuis farms near Primghar, Iowa, and has already signed an agreement with Summit. Five parcels of land on his family farm are in the path of Summit and Navigator pipelines.

He serves on the board of directors for Siouxland Energy Cooperative, an ethanol plant near Sioux Center, Iowa. Siouxland is one of 12 ethanol plants in Iowa working with Summit.

Nieuwenhuis says his interest in CCS technology began several years ago when he met with directors on the California Air Resources Board on how to increase demand for biofuels in low-carbon markets such as California.

“They thought the absolute best thing we could do would be to capture our CO2 emissions and sequester them,” he says.

Enter Summit with its project proposal.

“I thought, Wow this is exactly what we were looking for!” Nieuwenhuis says.

Harris says an ethanol plant can knock a game-changing 30 points off its carbon intensity score by sequestering carbon.

With improved efficiencies, ethanol from participating plants could be net-zero by the end of the decade, he says.

Lance Lillibridge, a farmer from Vinton, Iowa, says he wishes one of the pipelines was coming through his property.

“The world is going to decarbonize whether we like it or not, and we can be a leader or we can be a follower,” he says. “Being a follower doesn’t always work so well.”

Iowa Utilities Board Eminent Domain Process

Don Tormey, director of communications for the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), provided Successful Farming with an overview of the permitting process for pipelines such as these and what rights landowners have when faced with an eminent domain case.

As part of the pipeline permitting review process, the pipeline company must file a separate petition to IUB for each parcel of land the company is requesting to use eminent domain.

IUB will hold a hearing to consider the permit request and will consider each individual request for eminent domain. At this step landowners have the opportunity to make any opposition known through written comments or public testimony at the hearing.

IUB will render a decision on the permit request and address each individual parcel under consideration for eminent domain. If landowners disagree with the verdict, they can appeal the decision to the district court.

To learn more, review Iowa Code chapter 479B and the IUB’s rules found in 199-Iowa Administrative Code-chapter 13. These steps are specific to Iowa. Each state has its own process. Contact your local representatives to learn more about your state’s process.