An Iowa House bill that would restrict the use of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines in the state is effectively dead until the next session, in 2024, after the Senate late last month failed to advance it ahead of a legislative deadline. That leaves the issue for now with the Iowa Utilities Board, which can rule on eminent domain requests.
The proposed bill would have banned the use of eminent domain unless access to 90% of the planned pipeline route was first obtained from owners voluntarily. It would have also offered protections to owners if their land or property was damaged by a pipeline. But senators generally opposed any use of eminent domain to obtain land for the projects.
Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures, and Wolf Carbon Solutions have all requested permits to build pipelines in Iowa. Their plan is to capture carbon dioxide from ethanol plants, transfer it via pipeline to other states, and then bury it underground.
Summit said it has already secured voluntary easements for roughly 70% of the company’s proposed project route in the state. In total, 1,050 landowners across 29 Iowa counties have signed 1,840 easement agreements with the company.
But while some landowners have signed the agreements, 78% of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for the purpose of installing carbon pipelines, according to a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Those who are opposed represent all parts of the state, income levels, and political parties.
Iowa Farm Bureau president Brent Johnson said in a recent interview with Western Iowa Today that the group is neutral when it comes to pipelines but sides with farmers when it comes to property rights. In a statement, the Iowa Corn Growers Association said it understands and respects its members’ property rights and need for proper protection, but that it also values the implementation of carbon capture and sequestration pipelines to lower the carbon-intensity scores of ethanol plants.
Construction has yet to begin on any of the pipelines, and safety is a major concern for farmers and landowners. Many worry about proper restoration of their land following pipeline construction and the long-term effects on soil health, while others have raised the issue of potential ruptures. A group of farmers traveled to the Iowa capitol earlier this year to voice their concerns to senators, ultimately asking for their rights to be respected.
In response to concerns about safety, Summit said that these types of pipelines have existed for over 20 years in North Dakota, and have been transferring carbon to Canada. In a statement, the company said, “Pipelines are significantly safer and less intrusive when transporting commodities like CO2,” adding that they are “extensively regulated.” Summit has filed suit to overturn local ordinances that restrict the pipelines because of public safety concerns.
Wolf has said the company doesn’t intend to use eminent domain for any parcel of land in Iowa, but Summit and Navigator are willing to rely on it to complete their projects. Because the Iowa Senate signaled that it will not be taking on this issue until the next session, starting in January 2024, the companies have indicated they will be looking to the Iowa Utilities Board to grant them permission.
The three-member board, which is appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, now holds the power to approve or reject the pipelines companies’ request to use eminent domain starting as early as this year. Gov. Reynolds has not taken a public stance on the use of eminent domain, but when asked about the proposed bill, she told Iowa Public Radio that the current law lays out how eminent domain can be used and that there are possible ways to improve it.
The board will hear arguments about the pipelines’ safety, job creation, crop yields, and environmental impacts. Since 2000, it has granted the power of eminent domain for two pipeline projects and five electric transmission lines; it also denied its use for one electric transmission line. There is no official date for when the board will begin its review process, but for now the power is in its hands.
FERN wrote last year about the carbon pipeline dispute here.