Senate won’t curb eminent domain for carbon pipelines; most Iowans say they want limits

Source: By Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, March 30, 2023

A House bill that would restrict the use of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines — an idea favored by a strong majority of Iowans — won’t receive a Senate hearing ahead of a key legislative deadline, meaning the bill is effectively dead for the session.

The bill represented the most serious legislative effort this year to address the concerns of farmers and other landowners who fear they could be forced to sell access to their land to companies seeking to build pipelines across the state.

To survive Friday’s second legislative “funnel” deadline, bills must pass out of either the House or the Senate and advance through a full committee in the opposite chamber.

The House passed House File 565 on March 22 and formally messaged it to the Senate for consideration the next day. The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Mike Bousselot, R-Ankeny, was assigned to chair a three-member subcommittee on the bill.

Bousselot said in a statement Wednesday he decided not to schedule the subcommittee this week given that the full Senate Commerce Committee wouldn’t meet in time to take up the bill before the funnel deadline.

The committee was scheduled to meet on Monday, but the meeting was canceled.

“The bill came over late last week from the House. It arrived so late in the process, I chose not to move the bill to subcommittee without a committee meeting scheduled late in the week,” Bousselot said in a statement. “Senators have a wide variety of opinions on this issue and a consensus has not been found.”

Senate Republican leadership could choose to reassign the bill to another committee, but they are unlikely to do so.

The House bill always had slim chances in the Senate.

Top Republicans in the Senate declined to schedule hearings on other proposals restricting or banning eminent domain this year, and they refused to pass a House bill last year that would have instituted a one-year pause on companies’ ability to ask for eminent domain.

House Republicans disappointed in Senate decision not to consider eminent domain bill

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, the bill’s House floor manager, said the Senate’s decision not to move the bill is disappointing.

“I think the bill we passed was important protections for our landowners and I’m very disappointed that they’re choosing not to move it,” he said Wednesday.

Holt pointed to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll this month, which found more than three-fourths of Iowans, or 78%, oppose letting carbon pipelines use eminent domain for their projects.

That includes 72% of Republicans, 79% of independents and 82% of Democrats.

Iowa’s ethanol industry has strongly opposed efforts to limit the use of eminent domain for the projects. Ethanol advocates argued the industry will struggle to survive without the pipelines, which would lower ethanol’s carbon emissions by transporting liquefied carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to be stored underground.

Two of the three companies seeking to build pipelines through Iowa — Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Solutions — have filed applications with the Iowa Utilities Board seeking to use eminent domain for their project.

The third company, Wolf Carbon Solutions, filed an application that said the company will not seek to use eminent domain.

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

All three companies have emphasized that they are working with landowners along their proposed routes. Summit said it has reached voluntary agreements with 70% of the landowners along its route.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said a lot of people are disappointed that the Senate declined to hold a hearing on the bill.

“I think it’s egregious that they wouldn’t even schedule a subcommittee to hear from the public on it,” he said. “Obviously, it’s no surprise given the previous refusals to have subcommittees on most of the eminent domain-related bills that came forward.”

What would the House bill do to curb eminent domain for pipeline construction?

The bill would require companies seeking carbon capture pipelines to reach voluntary agreements to buy 90% of the land on their proposed route before they could ask the state for the ability to use eminent domain.

Eminent domain powers would allow the companies to force landowners to sell access to their land so the pipeline could be built.

Landowners would also have recourse to pursue action against pipeline companies in court or at the Iowa Utilities Board if their land suffers issues such as reduced crop yield, poor drainage, soil erosion or compaction or loss of value as a result of any pipelines that run across their property.

The bill would also create a legislative committee to study Iowa’s eminent domain practices and procedures and make recommendations for future improvements.

Could the Iowa Legislature still take action on eminent domain this year?

Lawmakers have other options if they wish to restrict companies’ ability to use eminent domain this year.

Although the bill is dead, legislative leadership could introduce a new bill if both the majority and minority leaders in both the House and Senate agree. That seems unlikely.

Legislators can also revive proposals by attaching them as amendments to other bills, including adding them to budget bills.

More:Landowners are pressuring Iowa lawmakers to limit eminent domain. Do they have a chance?

That’s what happened last year when the House sought to force a one-year delay for any pipeline companies seeking to use eminent domain. The chamber added the measure to a budget bill, which it passed and sent over to the Senate. But senators stripped the language out before passing the bill back to the House.

Holt said he’ll be looking at ways to pass additional protections from eminent domain this year, but he did not provide specifics.

“We’re committed to trying to protect landowners to the best extent possible so we’ll be looking at options,” he said. “That’s about all I can say at this point.”

As for the chances of making progress on the issue this year, Holt said he hasn’t yet had any discussions about whether that would be possible.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at sgrubermil@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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