116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
While some prominent officials laud carbon capture pipelines like the one proposed for Western Iowa, Summit Carbon Solutions is taking its Midwest Carbon Express project to a more unpredictable audience: the public.
Summit is in the midst of holding informational meetings until Oct. 15 in about 30 affected Iowa counties, which geographically span from Page to Chickasaw. The underground pipeline is proposed to span five states — Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota — and remove about 12 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually to an underground cavity for it to calcify and become part of the rock.
Thirty-one ethanol plants, including 12 in Iowa, already have signed long-term contracts with Summit, spokesman Jesse Harris told The Gazette. By transporting carbon emissions from the factories, ethanol providers can adhere to low-carbon fuel standards in various states or countries.
The proposed pipeline, varying between 4 and 24 inches in diameter, would go at least 4 feet underground, Harris said. It could go deeper “based on conversations with landowners and the specific layout of their property.”
Some prominent officials have praised the carbon sequestration project.
“This is an opportunity for Iowa to, once again, lead,” said Dan Culhane, president and chief executive officer of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board, which will vote on Summit’s application.
Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority, told The Gazette earlier this year that projects like this can help Iowa’s ethanol plants “maintain a competitive advantage.”
After the informational meetings, Summit will "have more substantive conversations“ with landowners about purchases, Harris said.
Summit’s “strong desire” is to acquire land necessary for the route through voluntary easements, Harris said. It plans to use “third-party reputable sources” for determining the value of land, pay most of the damages from the lack of crops in the first three years and return the land to its original use after construction.
Those commitments haven’t been enough to convince every landowner along the potential route, though.
“The government has NO RIGHT to take our land for their own climate delusions or for the fattening of large corporations,” said Janna Swanson, of rural Ayrshire, in a letter filed Aug. 30 with the state regulators.
Swanson emphasized her “right to defend ourselves and secure our property” and quoted from the Bible in her letter.
The company isn’t ruling out requesting permission from regulators to use the power of eminent domain if landowners do not agree to the easement.
When the state utilities board in 2016 granted the power of eminent domain to construct the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline, the issue went to the Iowa Supreme Court — which ruled in the pipeline’s favor.
“I think it's going to be something that will be discussed as this project goes forward,” Harris said. “Our hope is that we don’t have to use eminent domain … but we’ll see how that process plays out.”
As Summit continues through the regulatory process, it comes armed with a team of political insiders.
Bruce Rastetter, a former president of the Iowa Board of Regents and a donor to Republican candidates, leads its parent company, Summit Agricultural Group. Jake Ketzner, a former chief of staff to Gov. Kim Reynolds, is the vice president of government and public affairs for Summit Carbon Solutions. And Terry Branstad, the six-term former Republican governor of Iowa and former U.S. ambassador to China, is an adviser. As governor, he appointed two of the three utilities board members.
On the other side of the political aisle, Harris was a senior adviser to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign in Iowa.
Summit has sought confidential treatment of the mailing lists of potential landowners affected by the proposal. Harris said it's a matter of privacy.
“We're mindful that people like to have our privacy respected, and they don't want a bunch of groups that are going out there to solicit for one thing or another as part of this project, either in support or opposition to this,” Harris said.
The company used public tax records to find the information for contacting landowners. The Office of the Consumer Advocate, which is under the purview of the Iowa Attorney General, expressed concern.
The utilities board has options “to protect the privacy and security of vulnerable landowners while still providing meaningful public access to the list,” Consumer Advocate Jennifer Easler said in a letter filed Sept. 14.
Easler also disagreed with Summit’s assertion that there is no public benefit to having the lists be public. “As numerous objectors have noted, public disclosure of the lists could enable affected landowners who object to the project to collaborate in joint defense,” Easler said.
Harris, a rural resident himself, said that the confidential mailing lists don’t prevent anyone from speaking up about the project.
“The idea that landowners wouldn’t already be talking about this is I think is probably unlikely,” Harris said. “We’ve made our position clear, but we’re happy to proceed with whatever the board thinks is the best route.”
Along with receiving approval from the Iowa regulators, Summit also needs approval from the four other states involved and from the federal level.
Should the project pass through all the necessary regulatory requirements at the county, state and federal levels, Summit is eyeing 2023 for the start of construction and 2024 for the beginning of operations, Harris said.
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