Republican lawmakers rip eminent domain proposal

By: - March 30, 2022 2:39 pm

More than 100 people gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol to protest the use of eminent domain for liquid carbon pipelines. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

New legislation that attempts to delay the threat of eminent domain for 10 months for landowners unwilling to allow liquid carbon pipelines on their properties does little to help their overall struggle, two Republican state lawmakers said.

They said the political clout and wealth of at least one of the pipelines’ backers — Bruce Rastetter, whose Summit Carbon Solutions has filed the first of three anticipated pipeline permit applications with the Iowa Utilities Board — are why the Republican-controlled Legislature is unlikely to give meaningful relief to those landowners.

“How much money did Bruce Rastetter give you?” Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, encouraged residents to ask their legislators. “There are a lot of people that bend over for money. They bend over so much sometimes I’m surprised they can still walk.”

The notion that Summit is buying votes is “misinformation,” said Jesse Harris, a spokesperson for the company. “We will continue to focus our time meeting with landowners, stakeholders, and more,” Harris said.

Rastetter is an agribusiness entrepreneur who has had success in the pork production and biofuels industries. He is one of Iowa’s leading political financiers and is a frequent punching bag for pipeline opponents.

Shipley’s remarks capped a more than two-hour forum at the state Capitol rotunda on Tuesday in which numerous pipeline opponents took turns to speak publicly of their worries about the use of eminent domain for the projects, the damage their lands would incur and the health hazards associated with potential pipeline leaks.

Many in the gathering of more than 100 people at one point chanted in unison: “No eminent domain for private gain!”

There are three potential projects that would lay a total of nearly 2,000 miles of pipeline across the state to transport captured carbon emissions — most often from ethanol plants — to Illinois and North Dakota to be pumped deep into the ground. The goal is to reap billions of dollars of federal incentives that are meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislative whiplash

The latest proposed state legislation — inserted into a House budget bill last week — would effectively prevent any utilities board decisions about eminent domain for the pipelines until February 2023.

That amendment — proposed by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton — came at the end of a winding, months-long legislative path that began in January with Kaufmann himself releasing a public statement that he would not consider bills that would restrict eminent domain for the pipelines.

“Now is not the right time to make changes in the current process while two carbon capture pipeline projects have already signed up hundreds of willing landowner participants and continue to negotiate voluntary easements,” Kaufmann said at the time.

Summit and Navigator CO2 Ventures had already held most of their required series of public meetings to inform potentially affected landowners and others about their projects. Summit lobbyists later said the company had expended tens of millions of dollars for their project that would be lost if new legislation blocks it.

In February, a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, that would have blocked private companies from using eminent domain to build carbon pipelines on agricultural land got an early nod from a subcommittee and was slated for a full committee hearing until it was abruptly pulled from consideration. Taylor had conceded the bill faced an “uphill battle” due to a lack of support among other senators.

Then, about two weeks ago, Kaufmann reversed course and, along with his colleagues of the House State Government committee, rewrote an unrelated cosmetology bill that was still eligible for consideration this legislative session into one that would impose an eminent domain moratorium until March 2023. He said it’s important for landowners to be able to negotiate with the pipeline companies for voluntary easements without the looming threat of eminent domain.

The latest proposal that is part of a budget bill was adopted by the House last week. It reduced the moratorium by a month.

A feckless proposal?

Taylor, who attended the Tuesday event at the Capitol, said he doubts the pause will have any palpable effect on the negotiations, nor that it will delay the projects’ timelines.

“This does not remove the harassment that’s taking place by the land agents as they’re bugging you over and over and over,” he said of the companies’ efforts to get permission to build. “There’s no restrictions on that. All of that is going to continue, I’m afraid, so you have no protection in that way either.”

One landowner who spoke Tuesday, George Cummins, a retired agronomist from Floyd County, said the proposed moratorium is merely meant to placate voters until after the upcoming November election.

People who spoke at the Tuesday event said liquid carbon pipelines do not serve a public benefit and should not be built with the use of eminent domain. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Others made emotional pleas to prevent the pipeline companies from slicing up their farmland that has been passed down through generations. Kathy Stockdale, of Hardin County, said she and some of her neighbors are attempting to fend off two of the projects. She said the Summit and Navigator pipelines would both cross their lands.

“The latest bill does nothing for us landowners,” Stockdale said. “The threat of eminent domain is still there.”

Summit, in a preemptive statement about the forum, said it has secured easements for more than 100 miles of its pipeline and was working to finalize 70 more miles. That represents about a quarter of its route through Iowa.

Those agreements are “a clear indication that the current system is working and working well,” the company said.

To approve eminent domain for the projects, the IUB must conclude that they serve a public benefit. Taylor said they don’t.

“This isn’t for a public park. This isn’t for a public library,” he said. “This isn’t for a public school or public highway.”

Taylor said the power to grant eminent domain should be stripped from the IUB and that the moratorium should be extended to allow lawmakers to take up the issue again next year before any projects can be approved.

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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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