More stringent rules for carbon capture pipelines draw lawsuit from Ames company

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2022

An Ames company that wants to build a $4.5 billion carbon capture pipelineacross Iowa has filed lawsuits against Story and Shelby counties over new ordinances that would require increased distances between the project and homes, churches and schools.

Summit Carbon Solutions filed the suit this week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, saying county supervisors have adopted ordinances that attempt to preempt state and federal oversight. The company asks the court to throw out the new rules.

Story County officials declined to comment on the lawsuit. Tim Whipple, a Des Moines attorney who helped the Shelby County supervisors write their ordinance, said the federal court’s decision will help provide clarity on the issue.

A decision would have broad impact in Iowa, where two other companies — Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions — also have proposed carbon capture pipelines and more counties are weighing setback requirements.

At the same time, the Iowa Utilities Board is considering whether federal law preempts the state from imposing safety requirements when permitting the carbon-capture pipeline projects. Those arguments are slated to be heard Dec. 13. So far, only Summit and Navigator have requested hazardous liquid pipeline permits.

The three companies propose capturing carbon dioxide from ethanol and fertilizer plants, liquefying the gas under pressure and transporting it via the pipelines to either North Dakota or Illinois, where it would be permanently sequestered deep underground.

The companies say the projects are needed to reduce the carbon footprint of ethanol so the renewable fuel will remain viable as the nation seeks to cut net greenhouse emissions in half by 2030 to address climate change. Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of ethanol and raises the most corn, about half of which goes to making the biofuel.

Summit proposes to build 1,900 miles of pipeline through five states, including about 650 miles in Iowa. The pipeline would cross 30 Iowa counties.

Bill Couser, a Nevada-area farmer and cattle producer, joined Summit in the lawsuits, saying the local ordinances restrict his ability to grow his business. Couser, who is an investor in Lincolnway Energy, sells most of his corn to the nearby ethanol plant and buys back distillers grain, a high-protein byproduct of ethanol production, to feed his 5,200 head of cattle, according to the lawsuits.

Summit said in its suits the value of Iowa’s corn crop ― $13.9 billion last year ― is tied to ethanol’s future. For example, Lincolnway Energy could earn at least $15 million more each year if the ethanol maker could sell its product in California and other states willing to pay more for fuel that meets low-carbon emission standards.

Summit, a spinoff of farming entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group, said the county ordinances seek to preempt the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s oversight of pipeline construction and operation and the Iowa Utilities Board’s permitting authority.

Story and Shelby county officials have said the ordinances aren’t designed to stop the projects, but to give residents a needed buffer in the case of a pipeline rupture. Carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant that in large concentrations can cause death.

Story County’s setback from homes and schools would be close to 1,700 feet, an official said during a reading of the ordinance. Shelby County’s would require about a half mile of separation from churches, schools and other public places and not less than 1,000 feet from homes.

In addition to safety concerns, Steve Kenkel, a Shelby County supervisor, told the Register before Summit’s lawsuit that the ordinance is designed to protect the economic viability of towns that Summit’s pipeline would run near. The county has existing zoning requirements around towns to guide residential, commercial and other development, and the hazardous liquid ordinance fits within that requirement.

In May, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it’s looking at additional safety requirements for carbon capture pipelines after ordering oil company Denbury Gulf Coast to pay nearly $4 million in penalties for a carbon capture pipeline rupture near Satartia, Mississippi, two years ago that sickened about four dozen people.

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