Final arguments for Summit pipeline permit are due in January

Source: By Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch • Posted: Monday, November 20, 2023

Bret Dublinske, an attorney for Summit Carbon Solutions, said the company’s pipeline project will benefit all Iowans. Opponents argue it will primarily benefit the company’s investors. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Hundreds of pages of written briefs that argue for and against a hazardous liquid pipeline permit for Summit Carbon Solutions in Iowa are due before the end of the year, with written replies to those arguments due Jan. 19, the Iowa Utilities Board recently ordered.

The three-member board will thereafter decide whether to issue or deny a permit to Summit to allow construction of its carbon dioxide pipeline system and whether the company can use eminent domain to obtain land easements for about a quarter of its route.

State law does not set a deadline for that decision, and the board has not estimated when its decision might come.

Summit proposes a five-state pipeline system spanning more than 680 miles to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to North Dakota for underground sequestration.

The board’s evidentiary hearing for Summit’s proposal in Iowa ended Nov. 8. After the hearing’s conclusion, the board said it would allow a briefing schedule that is longer than normal “due to the voluminous record and the upcoming holiday season,” and would accept atypically long initial briefs of up to 150 pages, with some exceptions for even longer filings. It noted that the case file has tens of thousands of pages of testimony and exhibits.

Pipeline opponents sought to circumvent the laborious briefing process after the hearing concluded with a motion for the board to deny Summit’s permit application.

“From our point of view, Summit clearly has failed to show that this project is in the public convenience and necessity,” said Brian Jorde, an attorney for numerous landowners in several states, in reference to a state requirement for the permit to be issued. “Matter of fact, not a single witness of the public has showed up and said it is convenient. And maybe a handful of — maybe the ethanol plant gentleman or so from Iowa said it maybe was necessary, but no one else has. And they haven’t proven it.”

Bret Dublinske, an attorney for Summit, said Jorde and others can make those arguments in their written briefs and that seeking an abrupt decision from the board after the hearing is “factually and legally incorrect and premature,” according to a hearing transcript.

“This case has significant evidence about the benefits to the ethanol industry, to the corn economy, to the farm economy more broadly and how that supports land values and tax revenues and just generally the fabric of not only Iowa’s economy but Iowa as a while,” Dublinske said.

The board denied Jorde’s motion.

More than half of Iowa’s corn is used to produce ethanol, and Summit has argued that supporting the ethanol industry also supports higher corn prices.

The company has agreements with ethanol plants to share profits from federal tax credits that reward capturing carbon dioxide and producing low-carbon fuels, along with increased profits from selling those fuels in new markets. The specific details of the agreements have not been made public.

Pipeline opponents have argued that those profits will mostly benefit wealthy Summit investors. They further oppose the use of eminent domain to force construction of the pipeline system against landowners’ wishes and worry about damage to farmland and safety threats from potential pipeline breaches.

Summit’s permit application in North Dakota is under reconsideration and has no definitive timeline for completion. The state’s capital city of Bismarck recently sought to intervene in the process because of the pipeline’s proximity, according to documents filed with the state’s Public Service Commission.

Bismarck’s petition said it does not support or oppose the company’s proposal, but that it will be affected by it. Specifically, the city said the pipeline route might affect its future growth and the safety of its residents. The city’s fire department might also lead an emergency response to a pipeline rupture.

South Dakota rejected Summit’s initial route proposal for that state, and the company has said it plans to reapply with a modified route. The company has not indicated when that might happen.

Summit has delayed the projected operational date of its pipeline system by more than a year to 2026.

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