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Carbon pipelines, water quality progress divide Iowa ag secretary candidates
Republican incumbent Mike Naig is facing Democratic challenger John Norwood
JOHNSTON — The two candidates of Iowa secretary of agriculture on Friday differed on ways to make the state’s waterways cleaner and whether CO2 pipelines should be built in Iowa.
Mike Naig, the Republican incumbent, and Democratic challenger John Norwood discussed those issues and others in the Friday taping of this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” at Iowa PBS studios in Johnston.
Naig said carbon capture pipelines — three have been proposed in Iowa — would help support the state’s corn farmers and ethanol industry, which is in need of diversification as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and people drive less.
He said he believes eminent domain — the practice of government forcing landowners to enter into leases with companies building the pipelines — should only be employed as a last resort.
Norwood said he doesn’t support the use of eminent domain for the proposed pipelines and that there are better ways support Iowa’s corn growers and ethanol industry.
Many landowners across Iowa are protesting the use of eminent domain for pipelines that would run through their farmland. Others welcome the money they would receive for granting pipeline easements.
“This certainly is a hot topic, and it’s something I hear about as I travel the state,” Naig said. “I do hear from passionate people on both sides of this. You’ve got folks that aren’t interested in having their land accessed for this project. You’ve got folks that don't even support the concept of ethanol. …
“And then I hear from folks, certainly the ethanol industry, renewable fuels industry and producers who feel that they will benefit from the extension of and the expansion of ethanol in the state of Iowa, that they are interested in this. So I think there are some compelling reasons to be talking about this.”
Naig said the process of pipeline companies working with landowners should be allowed to play out, and that eminent domain should only be used as a last resort once “significant voluntary agreements” are in place.
Norwood, who lives in West Des Moines and is a small-business owner, said a better way to support Iowa’s corn growers and ethanol industry is through an expansion of the federal ethanol mandate to include fuels used by airplanes, trains, long-haul trucks and marine boats.
“I think we ought to be focusing on, rather than trying to use the carbon pipelines to prop up a declining market — which is our automobiles as they shift to electric vehicles — we ought to be looking at the hard-to-electrify markets,” Norwood said. “That is a role that government could play: Create new markets for ethanol, which makes sense, not try to prop up markets that are falling, catching a falling knife.”
Norwood said the work to improve Iowa’s water quality is not moving fast enough, and that small projects need to be employed on a much larger scale.
Iowa State University in 2013 developed the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which was designed to reduce the level of nutrients that are polluting Iowa’s waterways and harming sea life in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The current Nutrient Reduction Strategy isn’t working,” Norwood said. “The one-off, doing things one at a time, can’t scale to the 23 million acres. So we need to be thinking less about is it voluntary or regulatory. The framework ought to be not doing things one at a time, but doing them systematically.”
Naig said he is proud of the progress made thus far in addressing Iowa’s water quality, especially on limiting phosphorous in the water, while acknowledging more works needs to be done, especially with nitrogen.
“There are thousands of people who work on these issues and are actually putting practices on the ground in the state of Iowa. I do not consider that a failure in any form or fashion,” Naig said. “We have changed the trajectory. We are focused on accelerating and scaling up the adoption of practices across the state. That’s the right approach.”
“Iowa Press” can be viewed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on Iowa PBS; 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Iowa PBS World; and online at and any time online at iowapbs.org.
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