Pipeline opponents seek procedural halt in Iowa after North Dakota decision

By: - August 14, 2023 3:43 pm

Summit Carbon Solutions' permit request was expedited after Erik Helland became the new chairperson of the Iowa Utilities Board. (Screenshot of IUB meeting livestream)

State regulators should postpone a final hearing for a proposed carbon dioxide pipeline in Iowa because North Dakota rejected the project route, opponents of the pipeline say.

The Sierra Club of Iowa and landowners have asked the Iowa Utilities Board to pause the permit proceedings for Summit Carbon Solutions. Its evidentiary hearing is poised to start next week in Fort Dodge.

Summit’s project spans five states and would transport captured carbon dioxide from more than 30 ethanol plants to North Dakota for underground sequestration. However, North Dakota regulators rejected the company’s proposed route in that state this month because it didn’t minimize its negative effects on residents and the environment.

“Without a North Dakota permit, Summit has no project,” wrote Wally Taylor, an attorney for the Sierra Club, in a Friday motion to suspend the permit proceedings in Iowa.

The company expects to ask North Dakota’s Public Service Commission to reconsider its permit application this week, said Sabrina Zenor, a Summit spokesperson.

“Summit Carbon Solutions hears the concerns from the Public Service Commission, and we are addressing those concerns in our application,” she said.

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Summit will seek eminent domain for about a quarter of its route in Iowa, which totals more than 680 miles. Zenor said the company has voluntary easement agreements for about 75% of the route.

“This overwhelming level of support is a clear reflection that they believe like we do that our project will ensure the long-term viability of the ethanol industry, strengthen the agricultural marketplace for farmers, and generate tens of millions of dollars in new revenue for local communities across the Midwest,” Zenor said.

It’s unclear when the IUB will rule on the request to suspend the permit process. The board also has yet to decide whether Summit must reveal specific details of its financial agreements with ethanol plants in Iowa to verify its claims of economic benefits of the project. An administrative law judge said two weeks ago that the company should provide unredacted copies of its contracts to attorneys who represent the Sierra Club and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Pipeline opponents have sought to delay Summit’s evidentiary hearing until next year. The company requested a more expeditious timeline and a decision on its permit by the end of the year. The IUB settled on a start date for this month for the hearing despite earlier indications it would begin in October, which some state lawmakers have said indicates the permit process is being “fast-tracked.”

Summit rejects that claim and has noted that the permit process has been ongoing for two years. When Summit announced the project in 2021, it predicted the pipeline would be operational in 2024. It’s unclear how the company’s setback in North Dakota will affect that timeline.

“Given the recent denial of Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline permit in North Dakota, it doesn’t make sense to hold hearings now on the issue of eminent domain,” Mary Powell, a Shelby County landowner, wrote recently to the IUB. “It would not be fair to take our land away from us when the pipeline that is proposed to run through our land has nowhere to go.”

A recent IUB decision that denied a motion to dismiss Summit’s permit petition is also being challenged in state court. On Friday, landowner George Cummins and his attorney Brian Jorde sought judicial review of the July decision and a suspension of the company’s permit process while that review is pending, according to court records.

Cummins argues that Summit’s project is not regulated by the IUB because it won’t transport “liquefied carbon dioxide,” which state law considers a hazardous liquid. The carbon dioxide that will flow through the pipeline system will be in a “supercritical” state that has characteristics of gases and liquids.

A district court judge in Hardin County already rejected the argument in a land survey lawsuit, but the new petition is filed in Polk County. A judge has not yet taken action on the new petition.

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Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify the request Summit Carbon Solutions expects to make to North Dakota regulators this week.

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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.

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