Summit pipeline permit hearing will start two months earlier than first expected

By: - June 16, 2023 3:50 pm

Summit Carbon Solutions intends to build more than 2,000 miles of carbon dioxide pipeline. (Graphic courtesy of Summit Carbon Solutions)

A final permit hearing to consider Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed carbon dioxide pipeline will start two months earlier than initially expected, according to a procedural schedule set Friday by the Iowa Utilities Board.

The change came after a shake-up in leadership on the board.

Former chairperson Geri Huser was adamant in March that the weekslong evidentiary hearing would start Oct. 23 to consider Summit’s roughly 680 miles of pipe that would carry the captured greenhouse gas from ethanol plants in mostly western and northern parts of the state.

Instead the hearing will begin in August. The project is one of three pending pipeline proposals.

Summit had sought an expeditious approval process, whereas opponents of the project wanted the hearing to be delayed to next year.

Huser had overseen Summit’s permit process since August 2021, and the project is among the largest and most complicated the board has considered.

But in April, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced her appointment of a new member, Erik Helland, to the board to replace someone whose term was expiring, and also appointed Helland as the new chairperson.

Huser resigned less than a week later with an effective date of April 30, when her position as chairperson was set to expire. Her term as a board member would have expired in 2027.

Reynolds recently told Iowa Capital Dispatch that her appointment of Helland — a former Republican state representative who most recently was a member of the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board — to replace Huser as chairperson was a standard procedure.

“After somebody has served in that position for a long time, it’s not unusual to change that out,” she said.

Pressed about whether there was an ulterior motive for the change, given the three contentious pending pipeline proposals, Reynolds said Helland’s appointment had the potential to provide “more continuity” for the board because Huser could have been “a supportive mentor.”

“Every decision that I make, somebody reads something into it,” she said.

Instead, Huser resigned, and two of the three board members who will consider the pipeline projects started their terms in May.

After Helland’s appointment, the board suggested it could provide mediators to help facilitate discussions for land easements — an idea that was broadly panned by pipeline opponents who see it as an endorsement of Summit’s project.

There are about 1,000 parcels of land that might be subject to eminent domain requests. Because the board considers those requests individually during the permit hearing, they have the potential to significantly extend the length of the hearing, which could last months.

Helland, in a recent board meeting, said the mediations would give a “neutral platform” for negotiations.

In a Friday order, the board said it will mail notices to those landowners to gauge their interest in mediation. Feedback will determine whether the board offers it.

In that order, the board also set Summit’s hearing to start Aug. 22. It will be held at the Cardiff Event Center in Fort Dodge.

“The IUB is dedicated to the delivery of well-reasoned decisions in a timely manner, no matter how difficult,” the board said in a press release about the order.

The board also said it would break from precedent and consider eminent domain requests on the front end of the hearing so that farmers who are subject to them would be able to participate before fall harvest begins.

Summit told Capital Dispatch that the schedule should enable the board to make a decision on its permit by year’s end, which it had requested.

“This will enable Summit and the farming community to coordinate planting and facilitating construction within a single crop year,” Summit said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.