Iowa regulators reject efforts to delay hearing for controversial carbon capture pipeline

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2023

FORT DODGE — As a hearing got underway here Tuesday on Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed $5.5 billion carbon capture pipeline across Iowa, state regulators denied efforts to postpone the proceedings, citing in part the time and effort spent on preparations.

Erik Helland, chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board, said putting off the hearing on Summit’s request for a permit to build the hazardous liquid pipeline would “adversely impact” a large number of people who have planned their schedules around the hearing, which is expected to last for months.

“Parties have experienced untold costs in anticipation of the hearing,” Helland said, adding that the board “alone has spent half a million dollars to date.” The costs to the state, which include having more than a dozen engineers review the pipeline route, will be recouped from Summit, a utilities board attorney said.

The Sierra Club Iowa Chapter was among organizations seeking a delay in the hearing after North Dakota regulators earlier this month denied Summit a permit for the portion of the pipeline crossing that state. The pipeline would carry liquefied carbon dioxide from ethanol and other industrial agriculture plants in Iowa and four other states, and the North Dakota permit is a key part of the plan because that’s where the greenhouse gas would be sequestered deep underground.

Summit last week reapplied for the permit, saying it had made changes in the route in response to criticism from the North Dakota Public Service Commission that it had failed to adequately address property owner and geological issues.

The denial of the North Dakota permit is just one of many controversiessurrounding the pipeline plan. Outside Fort Dodge’s Cardiff Event Center on Tuesday, about 200 pipeline opponents showed up wearing red shirts to express their concerns about the pipeline’s safety and potential damage to farmland that the 700-mile Iowa segment would cross. Above all, they object to Summit’s request that the utilities board allow it to use eminent domain to force unwilling landowners to sell it access to their property.

One of the protesters, Tim Baughman, a fourth-generation Crawford County farmer, called on state leaders to take a stand against granting eminent domain to a private company. Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state leaders have avoided getting involved in the controversial issue, which proponents say is vital to preserving ethanol’s long-term viability as an alternative fuel.

“There is no time left for decision-makers to claim to be neutral,” Baughman said. “A person is either for or against preserving landowner rights. This decision will set precedence, so we the people need to speak out now.”

Steve Kenkel, chairperson of the Shelby County Board of Supervisors, said eminent domain shouldn’t be used for a carbon capture pipeline. Shelby is one of eight counties that are fighting the project, passing ordinances that would provide a buffer for future development near the pipelines as well as to protect residents in the case a pipeline ruptures, releasing carbon dioxide, an asphyxiant.

“You want respect for your land,” Kenkel said. “You want respect in knowing that your livelihood won’t be damaged. You want respect that your family will be safe and protected from harm.

“Respect is what unifies all of us together today,” he said.

Two other companies — Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions — also have proposed building carbon capture pipelines in Iowa, though Wolf has said it won’t seek eminent domain powers for its project. Summit is the first to go to the state board for a permit.

The federal government is pledging billions of dollars in tax incentives for the projects as part of its plan for combating climate change.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, told reporters outside the hearing that Summit has reached voluntary easement agreements with about 71% of the affected Iowa property owners. That’s a “supermajority of landowners,” he said.

“We shouldn’t pretend that when folks show up here, in a lot of red shirts, that they speak for all landowners,” Shaw said.

He said the pipeline is necessary for Iowa ethanol producers to meet consumer demand for low-carbon, renewable fuel “if we’re going to have a chance to keep Iowa’s ag economy solvent, but even more importantly, to grow it into new markets like sustainable aviation fuel,” he said.

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

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