Bill to block eminent domain for pipelines faces ‘uphill climb’

By: - February 15, 2022 5:57 pm

Dozens of people posed questions to Navigator CO2 Ventures officials during a pipeline informational meeting in Ames on Jan. 6, 2022. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Proposed legislation that would block private companies from using eminent domain to build liquid carbon pipelines on agricultural land won support from an Iowa Senate subcommittee Tuesday.

Senate File 2160 was introduced about two weeks ago by Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center. Its approval by a commerce subcommittee gives it a narrow window to remain viable beyond this week if the full committee — which is set to meet at 11 a.m. Wednesday — also recommends it for passage.

“Unfortunately, this bill faces an uphill climb on the pathway to becoming law,” Taylor said, “but even when the going is difficult, we have to try to move forward.”

Taylor spoke at Tuesday’s subcommittee hearing but he wasn’t a member of the panel and couldn’t vote. Instead, it was Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, and Sen. Craig Williams, R-Manning, who led the charge to advance the bill.

“I think it has a lot of merit,” Williams said. “I just don’t think it does exactly what everybody in this room thinks that it does, and it may need some modifications.”

The bill was widely supported by those who attended the hearing in person and online, but Williams said the bill might have “unintended consequences” for utilities that are private companies. He said a high-voltage transmission line that was built in recent years with the use of eminent domain might have been doomed by the proposed law if it were in effect at the time.

In its current form, the law would take effect in July. The timeline squarely targets the recent proposals of three companies that want to build a total of nearly 2,000 miles of pipeline across the state to transport liquid carbon dioxide from ethanol plants for sequestration in Illinois and North Dakota.

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Two of the companies have already begun the state’s hazardous liquid pipeline permit process by holding informational public meetings, and one has officially applied for the permit.

“With this bill, this project stops dead in its tracks,” said Jeff Boeyink, a lobbyist for Summit Carbon Solutions. “That means all the tens of millions of dollars that have already been invested are lost, and this project goes nowhere, farmers get no benefit, the ethanol plants we signed up are done. So there’s inherent unfairness pulling the rug and changing the rules after this development process has started.”

Summit was the first to start the process in August and petitioned for the permit in late January.

Lobbyists for Summit and Navigator Heartland Greenway, the other company to hold the information meetings for its carbon pipeline, are the only ones that have registered opposition to the bill.

Sen. Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, said he would oppose the bill’s recommendation without it being amended.

“The bill, in my opinion, just doesn’t get accomplished what we want to get accomplished without collateral damage, and the collateral damage, in my opinion, has tipped the scales the other direction, maybe too far,” he said.

But Williams warned that current law doesn’t sufficiently protect the property rights of Iowans.

“As the law stands today, the Iowa Utilities Board has the right to permit the pipelines in the state of Iowa, and once they permit, eminent domain is automatically a part of that,” Williams said.

Don Tormey, a spokesperson for the utilities board, has repeatedly insisted eminent domain is not an automatic right afforded by a permit because the board has discretion over how it is exercised.

It’s unclear to what extent the projects might require eminent domain to get easements for private lands, but more than a dozen counties have filed objections with the Iowa Utilities Board, opposing the use of eminent domain for the pipelines.

“It is the belief of the Lyon County Board of Supervisors that each land owner should have the right to decide if they want the carbon capture pipelines on their property,” the Lyon supervisors said in their objection last month.

More than 100 others have also filed objections with the utilities board, including Taylor, the bill’s sponsor.

“A significant number of my constituents and neighbors in Sioux, O’Brien, Cherokee, Plymouth, and Lyon counties have expressed serious concerns about these pipeline projects and I share their concerns,” Taylor wrote. “While there may be some environmental and economic benefits from a carbon capture pipeline running through Iowa, there are some risks and downsides, as well. Financial and political pressures should not be allowed to obscure, or override, possible harmful effects of pipeline construction and use.”

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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