Iowa regulators propose using mediators to settle Summit carbon capture pipeline disputes

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Saturday, May 20, 2023

Iowa regulators propose hiring mediators to settle easement disputes between an Ames company and landowners in the path of its nearly 800-mile carbon-capture pipeline who could be targeted for eminent domain.

The Iowa Utilities Board floated the idea Friday in an order outlining part of its schedule for determining whether Summit Carbon Solutions should receive a permit to build a hazardous liquid pipeline across the state.

Landowners’ use of “impartial, third-party mediators,” is voluntary, the three-member panel said Friday in its order. The board said it would hire the mediators, whose services would be provided at no cost to landowners.

Regulators said they’re “exploring actions that are focused on assisting landowners impacted by this project and on facilitating a more efficient hearing.”

The Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter said Friday it’s not the Iowa Utilities Board’s “job to encourage landowners to negotiate with pipeline companies. Iowa law clearly states a landowner does not have to negotiate with a pipeline company seeking eminent domain,” the group said in a statement.

Thousands of Iowans, including county supervisors and state lawmakers, have written to the board, voicing opposition to Summit’s project, as well as two other carbon-capture pipelines.

Summit, along with Navigator CO2 and Wolf Carbon Solutions, have proposed building pipelines that would be used to capture carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol, fertilizer and other industrial ag plants, liquefy it under pressure and transport it to either Illinois or North Dakota to be sequestered deep underground.

Opponents say they’re concerned about developers’ possible use of eminent domain to force unwilling landowners to sell access to their property for the pipelines’ construction. Residents also have voiced concern about the pipelines’ safety and the impact construction would have on farmland and underlying drainage systems.

“Throughout this proceeding, all parties have expressed a need for transparency and the opportunity to be heard,” the Utilities Board said in the order. “The board has consistently heard from landowners, both in person and via submitted comments, that the easement negotiation process is complicated, confusing and stressful.

“To address these concerns, the board is exploring the use of impartial, third-party mediators to balance the negotiation process and reduce regulatory delay,” regulators said.

More:Builders vow CO2 pipelines will be safe. Worried Iowans point to a Mississippi rupture.

If no agreement is reached or a landowner declines mediation, “the board could then receive testimony and evidence from landowners” targeted by Summit for eminent domain, the board said.

Additionally, the board said it’s considering having “individual board members or other presiding officers” hear “testimony or other evidence” from landowners who face eminent domain. The full board would consider the testimony in reaching decisions in the case, it said.

The board said it’s considering using mediators and presiding officers due to the “number of parcels impacted” by the proposal and its “desire to expand public access to and simplify the proceeding.”

“By having neutral, third-party mediators and presiding officers addressing” eminent domain requests, the board said it will be able to “reduce the impact of the hearing to everyone involved, including landowners. Having a hearing which lasts six, eight or 10-plus weeks places a burden on everyone involved and creates uncertainty as to when evidence relating to any one area of the state or issue to be decided will occur.“

Satellite locations also are being considered “closer to the homes and businesses of affected individuals,” the board said.

The board also directed Omaha attorney Brian Jorde to provide more information about how 251 landowners he represents would be impacted by the pipeline project before regulators decide on whether they will be allowed to intervene in the case.

The Sierra Club said the board is moving too fast, especially since it has two new members — Erik Helland, a former Republican lawmaker, and Sarah Martz, a utilities engineer.

“Efficiency should not be the priority — thoroughness and fairness is the priority,” the Sierra Club said, pointing to new possible carbon capture pipeline rules by federal regulators and pending lawsuits. “This schedule is not appropriate for the magnitude of the proposals before us.”

Last month, the Iowa Senate last month confirmed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appointment of Martz and Helland, who Reynolds also appointed as the board chairman. The two join board member Joshua Byrnes, a former Republican lawmaker and manager of Osage Municipal Utilities.

The Utilities Board said it would discuss the proposals June 6 during a status conference.

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