116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
By William Petroski, Des Moines Register
DES MOINES - The Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, describing last week's state meeting on an oil pipeline project as a 'debacle,” is asking state officials to schedule a new forum to allow open public comments.
A ruckus developed at the Wallace State Office Building in Des Moines after opponents of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline angrily accused Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials of trying to prevent them from publicly voicing objections at the Dec. 16 meeting, which was attended by about 150.
Instead of conducting a traditional public hearing - where one person after another testifies at a microphone - DNR officials tried to funnel two people at a time using both sides of the auditorium. There they were instructed to sit at tables and speak into recording devices so their comments could be transcribed later onto the public record.
Many people stood in the audience and loudly complained about the meeting format, with some harshly criticizing Gov. Terry Branstad and DNR Director Chuck Gipp. State troopers removed one pipeline foe who they say became disruptive, and many opponents ignored DNR's orders and directly addressed the crowd.
Iowa Sierra Club Director Neila Seaman said DNR officials lost control of the meeting. She sent a letter Monday to Gipp asking him to schedule a new forum to hear comments on the request for a state environmental permit.
The pipeline is proposed by Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The $3.8 billion pipeline would stretch underground from North Dakota to Illinois - crossing 18 Iowa counties - and carry up to 570,000 barrels of oil a day. The DNR is among the agencies that need to issue permits for the project to be built as planned.
'Your department's public meeting on Dakota Access's sovereign lands permit last week was, with all due respect, a debacle,” Seaman told Gipp. 'I encourage you to go back to square one … and return to the format of allowing one speaker at a time to comment into a microphone for all to hear.”
Seaman said Iowans are passionate about the pipeline issue and last week's meeting's format only intensified the polarization. She said the format prohibited the audience from hearing the comments of others and raised questions whether an accurate account of the comments was lost in the 'chaos” that resulted.
Iowa DNR spokesman Bruce Button said Tuesday he spoke about the Sierra Club's request with DNR Deputy Director Bruce Trautman, who told him the state agency is not planning any additional meetings on the permit. However, Trautman plans to reach out to the Sierra Club to see if it would like to meet with him to discuss the matter, Button said.
Gipp told The Register last week the state agency was trying to be fair to all sides and to follow Iowa law in conducting the meeting. He also said the meeting was not intended to allow a public demonstration.
Many union construction workers attended last week's forum to express support for the pipeline, saying the project would contribute to the nation's energy independence while providing good-paying jobs during construction.
Opponents say the pipeline would increase dependence on fossil fuels and risk an environmentally disastrous oil spill, and they oppose the use of eminent domain to obtain private land for the project.
The Iowa Utilities Board is weighing a request for a hazardous liquids pipeline permit for the pipeline project. But a separate DNR permit is needed to cross publicly owned lands and waters.
DNR officials said they expect to make a decision on the permit this winter.