Branstad: Iowa's oil pipeline process was fair

Governor dismisses opponents, stresses 'need to respect the process'

Brenda Brink of Huxley holds an anti-pipeline sign at the Iowa Utilities Board in Des Moines on Thurs. Mar. 10, 2016. (R
Brenda Brink of Huxley holds an anti-pipeline sign at the Iowa Utilities Board in Des Moines on Thurs. Mar. 10, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The process state regulators followed in approving an underground oil pipeline being built across Iowa was “reasonable and fair,” Gov. Terry Branstad said Tuesday, although he said he recognizes protesters are trying to halt the project.

Branstad said at his weekly news conference that objectors have “exhausted all of their judicial remedies and they’ve lost. I think we need to respect the process and the decision-making that’s been made.”

The governor also dismissed criticism that he could have used executive authority to stop the project — saying his only role has been to appoint the three members of the Iowa Utilities Board who approved the permit and granted the eminent domain powers a Texas company is using to obtain easements from resistant landowners.

Pipeline developer Dakota Access has begun placing some of the 346 miles of pipeline crossing 18 Iowa counties. The $3.8 billion project slated for completion yet this year will transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields through Iowa to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill.

“I did not take a position on it,” Branstad told reporters. But he said the utility board members were “very thoughtful and very deliberative” during a process that included hearings in each of the 18 affected Iowa counties and considerable research in making “the decision that this was in the best interest to approve it.”

Last week, 30 people were arrested at a construction staging area near Boone as they protested the pipeline being built there. Also, a woman was arrested in Lee County for protesting the project, and organizers say they expect more demonstrations to occur.

A federal court hearing in set for next week on Dakota Access’ request for a restraining order to keep protesters away from construction.

Branstad said it’s “important that people abide by the law and that they not endanger themselves or the workers that are working on the pipeline.”

Branstad — who raised money for his 2014 re-election bid at a Texas event organized by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — called it “laughable” that some protesters assert his lack of action against the project is because of financial ties to petroleum interests.

“There’s probably nobody that Big Oil hates more than me,” he said. “I am the strongest advocate for renewable energy, and Iowa leads the country in renewable energy. And I have consistently gone after Big Oil and the misinformation, the lies they’ve told about ethanol throughout,” he said.

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon, who leads a group helping organize the protests, said he is surprised Branstad is not joining him on the side of landowners. They say it’s illegal for a private company working for a private purpose to use eminent domain to deprive farmers of their property rights.

Branstad said most landowners “have been very willing” to sign voluntary easements to allow the pipeline to cross their property and “are being very well compensated and they’ll still be able to use the land once the pipeline is put in place.”