Iowa Poll: Strong majority opposes using eminent domain for carbon-capture pipelines

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, March 14, 2023

At a time when the state is deeply divided politically, Iowans are largely united in their opposition to carbon-capture pipeline companies using eminent domain to force unwilling landowners to sell them access to their property, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.

The poll shows 78% of Iowans oppose companies using the state-granted power to build carbon-capture pipelines across the state, while 15% are in favor and 7% are unsure.

“This initiative is opposed by strong majorities in every demographic group,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll.

A strong majority of Iowans oppose eminent domain for the pipelines, regardless of their political party, gender, age, religion, income or where they live.

For example, 72% of Republicans oppose using eminent domain for pipeline construction, 82% of Democrats and 79% of independents; 76% of men and 80% of women; 78% of respondents younger than 45 along with those 45 and older; and 80% of rural residents and 76% of urban residents.

Eighteen percent of men favor it, compared with 11% of women. The poll of 805 Iowans was conducted March 5-8 by Selzer & Co. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Ethanol industry says three-quarters of production would be lost without carbon-capture pipelines

The companies pushing the projects propose to use the pipelines to transport carbon dioxide, liquefied under pressure, from ethanol and other industrial agricultural plants to deep underground sequestration sites in North Dakota and Illinois.

Proponents say reducing the carbon footprint of ethanol is key to keeping the biofuel viable amid growing pressure to limit climate change.

Congress last year enhanced carbon-capture tax credits to encourage the adoption of such measures.  President Joe Biden seeks to halve the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Iowa is the largest U.S. producer of both ethanol and corn that is its primary source. Without pipelines, the ethanol industry would lose three-fourths of its production, or about $10.3 billion annually, in the next five to 10 years, a report commissioned by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association says.

Two of three companies seeking to build the pipelines, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures, have notified state regulators they want to use eminent domain powers to buy access where Iowans have refused to sell.

Navigator CO2 Ventures filed a request with the Iowa Utilities Board to build a carbon capture pipeline across Iowa. The 810-mile pipeline would cross 33 counties in the state, including Polk and Story in central Iowa.

The third company, Wolf Carbon Solutions, has not requested eminent domain powers in its petition with the Iowa Utilities Board for a permit to build a pipeline. All the pipeline developers say they’re working to obtain voluntary agreements with property owners.

Iowa Legislature debates bill to limit eminent domain in building carbon-capture pipelines

A bill in the Iowa House would require carbon-capture pipeline companies to reach voluntary deals for 90% of the land they need before they can seek eminent domain.

Pipeline companies also would have to wait for new federal rules, comply with local ordinances and secure permits in other states before they could build in Iowa.

In addition to opposition to eminent domain, some opponents contend the pipelines may be unsafe.

Though the pipeline companies say there have been few problems in decades of use, opponents point to a 2020 rupture in a Satartia, Mississippi, carbon dioxide pipeline. Some 45 nearby residents affected by the gas, an asphyxiant, were taken to a hospital.

After eight years, Iowans are even more opposed to eminent domain in building pipelines

The results suggest that more Iowans are opposed to using eminent domain for pipelines than eight years ago, when the Iowa Poll asked a similar question about pipelines and transmission lines.

In that 2015 poll, 74% said they opposed using eminent domain to take private land for those types of projects, while 19% said they favored its use.

In this month’s poll, respondent Tim Schoon, a 52-year Democrat who lives in Iowa City, expressed skepticism about the projects.

“The risk involved with these pipelines is unclear,” said Schoon. “It just seems weird that something so controversial and unproven … can just be run through someone’s property without them having any control over the matter.”

“It just doesn’t seem right to me,” added Schoon, saying some early efforts to capture carbon at electric generation plants have failed to meet projections.

Schoon said he’s also not a big fan of ethanol.

“I know that farmers need the market for their grain, and I understand that,” he said. “But from an environmental standpoint, I don’t think that ethanol is that great.”

He said the billions of tax dollars that could go to supporting carbon-capture pipelines could be better spent investing in wind, solar and other renewable energy production, “things that are more economically viable and already proven to work.”

But D.J. Joshi, a 56-year-old Independent who lives in Bettendorf, said he supports allowing the Iowa Utilities Board to represent Iowa’s interests in deciding whether companies should receive eminent domain powers.

“If we generally let public policy fall to the sentiments of the individual who is impacted by it, we cannot prioritize the larger good for the community,” Joshi said. “If we leave it to each individual, then we won’t be able to accomplish big things.”

FAQs:How is the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll conducted? We answer your top questions.

He said mitigating the environmental impacts of ethanol is important in Iowa. Nationally, agriculture contributes 11% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

“Ethanol is tied fundamentally to the state’s economy,” he said, and Iowa needs to carefully consider “every step” possible to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

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

About the Poll

The Iowa Poll, conducted March 5-8, 2023, for The Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 805 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Dynata. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent American Community Survey estimates.

Questions based on the sample of 805 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.

Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.

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