House budget bill would temporarily suspend eminent domain for carbon pipelines

By: - March 24, 2022 7:23 pm

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann proposed an amendment to halt eminent domain for 10 months. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Carbon pipeline companies would not be allowed to claim eminent domain for nearly a year under a budget bill passed Thursday by the Iowa House.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, added the legislation to the Administrative and Regulatory budget. The language would prohibit the Iowa Utilities Board from holding a hearing on eminent domain for carbon pipelines until February 2023, potentially stalling projects to build three liquid carbon pipelines through the state.

Kaufmann said the change would give landowners more time to negotiate with pipeline companies.

“A negotiation with the threat of eminent domain being held over your head is not a negotiation,” Kaufmann said. “This gives 11 months of level playing field negotiations free of that threat.”

There are three companies seeking to build carbon pipelines through Iowa: Wolf Carbon Solutions, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures. 

The Iowa Utilities Board oversees the permit process to build a pipeline. At the discretion of the Utilities Board, a company may use eminent domain, a process for the government to claim private property for public projects. With eminent domain, carbon pipeline companies could force landowners to allow the construction of a pipeline through their property.

Summit filed for a permit in February. Navigator intends to seek a permit in May.  But if the Iowa Utilities Board cannot hold a hearing, it would be unable to approve those permits and allow the companies to begin the process of claiming eminent domain.

“It does not stop the pipelines, it simply allows negotiations to go on in a fair premise,” Kaufmann said.

Democrats were split on Thursday’s vote. Rep. Hansen said delaying the hearings until 2023 was merely “kicking the can down the road,” arguing the state should do more to protect landowners.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst also advocated for a “broader and more difficult conversation” on the issue, but she supported the amendment.

“I encourage us all to let this be the start of this conversation, not the end,” Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said.

Kaufmann had previously amended a cosmetology bill to include the moratorium on eminent domain – and to eliminate any reference to cosmetology. Democrats protested the maneuver, arguing the public did not have adequate time to comment on the new bill. As in committee, Kaufmann said Thursday that people “couldn’t care less” about the legislative process.

The amendment passed by voice vote, so there’s no way to know how many Democrats voted in favor.

The full budget bill, which also includes funding for the governor’s office, the Department of Inspections and Appeals, the state auditor and other regulatory agencies, passed 60-30.

The eminent domain proposal faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. A bill that would have prohibited private companies from using eminent domain for pipelines died in the Senate after the Commerce Committee declined to take it up.

Bill author Sen. Jeff Taylor was skeptical the Legislature would take action on eminent domain in the face of carbon pipeline projects.

“I don’t think there’s the political will in either chamber to stop the use of eminent domain for these pipelines,” Taylor said in February.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.