by Jared Strong
A spate of bills introduced in the Iowa Senate last week would severely restrict ongoing plans by three companies to build pipelines to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in the state.
Five bills introduced by Sen. Jeff Taylor, a Sioux Center Republican, would curtail eminent domain opportunities for hazardous liquid pipeline companies, limit their ability to conduct land surveys and negotiate easements for that land, and require them to identify their investors.
Taylor was among a minority of vocal Republicans to push for more protections in last year’s legislative session for landowners who oppose three projects that would lay about 2,000 miles of pipe across the state.
The only provision that gained traction last year would have delayed the empowerment of eminent domain for the projects until next month. It was not ultimately adopted and would have likely been ineffectual: A final permit hearing for the company furthest along in the process — Summit Carbon Solutions — has not yet been scheduled by state regulators.
But the issue gained new traction during last year’s election cycle.
“In my sixteen years in the Iowa House, I have never heard more concerns from constituents related to a single issue than the CO2 pipeline project currently proposed for our area,” Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, wrote in a letter to state regulators about a week before the election.
Grassley told Iowa Capital Dispatch this month that the pipelines will be a greater priority this session than last year: “What that is exactly, I’m not in a position where I can tell you, but I know the caucus is hearing enough from their constituents.”
Taylor’s bills would have far-reaching consequences for the projects. One would eliminate the use of eminent domain for their construction.
“That, in many ways, is my No. 1 preference because it gives the strongest protection to landowners and does the best job of addressing the constitutional problems with eminent domain for private companies for private profit,” he said.
Taylor said that proposal faces the largest uphill battle in the Legislature. In lieu of that, another bill would require the companies to gain the permission of landowners for 90% of the route to enable eminent domain for the remainder. The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation recently indicated it would support that law change.
Summit said last Friday it has signed voluntary easements for about 63% of its route in Iowa. That’s up from about 50% in September. Under current law, there is no requirement for a percentage of voluntary easements for a project to qualify for eminent domain. Summit has said it hopes to get final approval for its project from the Iowa Utilities Board in June and to start construction this fall.
About its progress for obtaining voluntary easements, the company said: “This support tells us Iowa landowners along the route view the project as a critical to supporting the state’s most important industry – agriculture. We look forward to continuing to work with landowners, stakeholders and policymakers to advance our nearly $987 million investment in Iowa’s future.”
Another of Taylor’s bills would remove the pipeline companies’ abilities to conduct land surveys without landowner permission. Iowa law allows the surveys — which are used to determine the depth and path of the potential pipelines — after the companies have held public meetings about their projects and provided notice of the surveys.
That part of the law is being challenged in court by multiple landowners who have refused to allow surveyors from Summit and Navigator CO2 Ventures onto their properties. It is also the subject of a criminal trespassing charge in Dickinson County.
Another Taylor bill would prevent pipeline companies from contacting unwilling landowners to negotiate voluntary easements, and the last would require pipeline companies to identify their investors. As part of the permit process, pipeline companies would have to provide a list of investors and their projected contributions based on monetary ranges, with the top category of more than $1 million.
Taylor said it’s likely that one or more of the bills will have companion bills in the House, but he was unsure when they might be filed or by whom.
The pipelines have been promoted as a boon to ethanol plants, which could reap billions of federal tax incentives to limit greenhouse gas emissions and could also sell their fuels at a premium in low-carbon markets. The ethanol industry is an important market for Iowa farmers because more than half of their corn is used to produce the fuel.
Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.