Bill switcheroo would delay eminent domain for pipelines

By: - March 16, 2022 5:24 pm

The proposed Heartland Greenway System would span about 885 miles in Iowa. (Courtesy of Iowa Utilities Board)

In an 11th-hour gambit to give more bargaining power to landowners in the path of proposed carbon pipelines, Republicans in the Iowa House on Wednesday converted a cosmetology bill into a one-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain for the pipelines.

“The reason we are addressing eminent domain today is because landowners who are potentially impacted want certainty,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, chairperson of the House State Government committee that narrowly advanced the amended bill. “I am not anti-pipeline.”

Kaufmann announced in January he would not consider legislation this session that would affect current pipeline proposals that have been in the works for months and have yielded dozens of agreements with landowners to lay pipe on their properties.

At issue are three potential projects that would build a total of nearly 2,000 miles of liquid carbon pipelines across the state to transport captured carbon emissions — mostly from ethanol plants — to other states to be sequestered underground.

Opponents of the projects say they don’t serve a public purpose that is worthy of eminent domain and would irreparably damage farmland and pose a public health risk.

A Senate bill that would have prevented private companies from using eminent domain to build the pipelines on farmland failed to get support from a committee before a deadline last month to remain viable for debate. Lobbyists for Summit Carbon Solutions, one of the pipeline proposers, said at the time that the bill would kill their project and cost the company tens of millions of dollars it had already invested.

Summit released a statement Wednesday afternoon that said it has already signed voluntary easements with landowners for more than 100 miles of its route and is finalizing agreements for 70 more miles.

“They’re using a strong-arm policy, I would say,” Ted Junker, a northeast Iowa farmer, said during the hearing. “And the first thing that comes out of their mouth when you tell them, no, you’re not interested, is ‘Well, we’re going to get it by eminent domain anyway,’ and that’s their spiel. That’s their negotiation.”

Junker was among three people who spoke during the hearing against eminent domain for the pipelines, which House Democrats said was too few people to have meaningful input from the public.

“When you see a cosmetology bill, and you haven’t had a chance as a public to actually know what the amendment does, in terms of changing it completely, then it is a problem,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, the ranking member of the committee. “And there’s where I think we become suspect in terms of the public, in terms of being able to be transparent.”

Democrats who spoke during the hearing said landowners rights need to be considered but that they opposed they way Kaufmann was doing it.

“The people back home that are affected by their land, they don’t give a sh– about the process,” Kaufmann responded. “They care about results.”

The committee voted 12-10 with one abstention to amend Senate File 2022 — which initially pertained to where barbers can operate — to halt eminent domain for the pipelines until March 2023 and to recommend it to the full House. Kaufmann indicated he was confident it would get a vote.

If the House approves the amended bill, it would still need the Senate’s approval of the changes before it goes to the governor’s desk.

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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.