Summit seeks second pipeline permit for project extension

Sierra Club argues process will put landowners ‘at a huge disadvantage’

By: - June 23, 2023 11:54 am

Summit Carbon Solutions’ addition to its carbon dioxide pipeline affects Floyd and Mitchell counties. (Map courtesy of IUB)

A carbon dioxide pipeline company that is nearing the end of its permit process in Iowa is seeking a second permit, rather than modify its existing request, to expand the project.

Modifying the existing request would likely delay the permit proceedings.

Summit Carbon Solutions this week asked the Iowa Utilities Board to set informational meetings for the expansion in Floyd and Mitchell counties in northern Iowa.

A 31-mile length of pipe would connect the Absolute Energy ethanol plant near St. Ansgar to Summit’s proposed pipeline network that is to span more than 2,000 miles in five states.

Summit’s new segment would span about 31 miles in Floyd and Mitchell counties. Mitchell was not previously in the pipeline path. (Map courtesy of IUB)

The project would carry captured carbon dioxide away from ethanol plants for underground sequestration in North Dakota.

Federal officials have said such projects are crucial to meet goals for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, but opponents of Summit’s pipeline worry about public safety and landowners’ rights. Summit is likely to seek eminent domain to obtain easements for about 1,000 parcels of land in Iowa.

The company was recently successful in expediting its permit process. The IUB set a final evidentiary hearing for the permit to start in August, roughly two months earlier than initially expected.

Summit has said it wants a decision on its permit by the end of the year, whereas opponents hoped to delay the hearing to next year.

Had Summit modified its first permit request, it’s likely that the hearing would be delayed. Such modifications require new informational meetings to be held in the affected counties, and the company cannot negotiate for easements with landowners until 30 days after the meetings. Summit must further show it has made sufficient efforts to obtain easements before requesting eminent domain.

Summit asked that the new informational meetings for the second permit request be held on Aug. 8 or 9. Its evidentiary hearing for the first permit is scheduled to start about two weeks later.

There is nothing in state rules that prohibits Summit from seeking a second permit for an addition to a project that has not yet been approved, said Don Tormey, an IUB spokesperson.

The board declined to comment further about the use of two permits for one proposed project.

Courtney Ryan, a Summit spokesperson, said the new permit request is meant to benefit landowners and others affected by the proposal.

“The recently announced line will need to begin the IUB permitting process from the beginning to ensure all stakeholders have an opportunity to participate and the IUB can make an independent and informed decision,” Ryan said.

Jess Mazour, of the Sierra Club of Iowa, which opposes Summit’s pipeline, disagreed: “The landowners on the new route are at a huge disadvantage,” she said.

The newly affected landowners will likely be ill-prepared to participate in the upcoming permit hearing, Mazour said, and the company will have more leverage in its negotiations with them.

The Sierra Club has asked the IUB to consolidate the two permit requests, which is allowed when the requests are similar.

“The issues and evidence in this docket would be virtually identical with the issues and evidence in (the first request),” wrote Wallace Taylor, a Sierra Club attorney. “It would therefore be an efficient use of the board’s time and resources to consolidate the two cases so the issues and evidence can be presented to the board in the same proceeding.”

It’s unclear when the IUB will make a decision about the consolidation request.

A group of 11 Republican state lawmakers wrote to the IUB this week about their concerns about the “fast track handling of the proposed Summit pipeline hearings.”

“The fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Iowans are in play here: We need to err on the side of due process and fairness,” said the objection letter, which was submitted by Rep. Helena Hayes, of New Sharon.

The letter noted the strong support in the Iowa House for restrictions on the use of eminent domain to build carbon dioxide pipelines. A bill the House approved this year that would require the projects to have at least 90% voluntary easements did not get a vote in the Senate.

The next legislative session starts in January.

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.