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Iowa House limits eminent domain for CO2 pipelines
Bill now goes to Senate, where prospects are unclear
Caleb McCullough, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Mar. 22, 2023 6:05 pm, Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 6:41 pm
DES MOINES — Carbon dioxide pipeline companies looking to build in Iowa would have to gain voluntary easements for 90 percent of the pipeline’s route before employing eminent domain under a bill House lawmakers passed Wednesday.
The bill, House File 565, passed under the eyes of a few dozen landowners and other pipeline opponents that rallied outside the Capitol earlier Wednesday to pressure lawmakers to pass the bill without amendments.
The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, where its prospects are unclear.
The bill originally placed a moratorium on pipeline construction until a federal regulator released updated safety regulations for the CO2 projects. It also originally required pipelines to receive all permits from other states and comply with all local zoning permits before being granted a permit in Iowa.
But those amendments were removed from the bill Wednesday in an agreement among stakeholders, according to Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, the bill’s floor manager.
A number of rules governing land restoration and compensation standards remain in the bill as does a provision creating a committee to study the procedures around eminent domain in Iowa.
During floor debate Wednesday, supporters of the bill railed against private companies using eminent domain to gain easements to privately held land for for-profit projects.
Holt said the bill was intended to protect the “fundamental liberty” of property rights.
“If these pipeline projects are essential to ethanol and agriculture, let them be built through voluntary easement and not by allowing the blunt force of government to be used to shatter this fundamental birthright,” Holt said.
The bill passed the House, 73-20, with nine Republicans and 11 Democrats voting against the bill. Two lawmakers recused themselves, invoking a rule that bars lawmakers from voting on legislation in which they or an immediate family member has a direct financial interest.
Rep. Ross Wilburn, an Ames Democrat who opposed the bill, said the pipeline projects would support good-paying union jobs and he doesn’t think the bill would stop the projects anyway.
He also suggested the bill would not move forward in the Senate, where Republican leaders have not shown as much interest in regulating the CO2 pipelines.
“It’s not going to appear on the floor of the Senate, and even if it did, the governor will not sign, in my opinion,” he said.
Some Republicans supported changing the bill to remove the central eminent domain restriction and add a “landowner’s bill of rights” intended to regulate easement negotiations between pipeline companies and landowners, but the amendment did not pass.
Three pipeline companies are seeking permits to build C02 pipelines in the state: Navigator CO2 Ventures, Summit Carbon Solutions and Wolf Carbon Solutions.
Navigator and Summit, the largest projects, are seeking eminent domain authority from the Iowa Utilities Board. Wolf is proposing a smaller pipeline, covering just four Eastern Iowa counties, and has said it will not seek eminent domain authority to build the pipeline.
The pipelines — which will shuttle CO2 from ethanol plants to reservoirs deep underground, taking advantage of federal tax credits — are backed by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, which represents Iowa’s ethanol and biodiesel plants.
In studies released this month, the group warned that Iowa would lose up to 75 percent of its ethanol plants, and the value of Iowa corn would drop, should the projects not go through.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the renewable energy organization's director Monte Shaw called the bill an “effective ban” of the projects.
The pipeline companies opposed the bill, which they say unfairly singles out carbon dioxide pipelines and puts an arbitrary barrier on the eminent domain process.
“It would be extremely detrimental to the ability to advance carbon management, which is what we've talked about these projects as being,” Navigator spokeswoman Elizabeth Burns-Thompson said Tuesday. “Our ability to truly manage carbon in a constructive and a safe manner will look like the development of pipelines. And that bill stands in the way of that.”
In an emailed statement, Summit spokesperson Jesse Harris said the company has received 70 percent of the proposed route in Iowa through voluntary easements, and said the support shows landowners agree that the projects are vital to Iowa’s ethanol industry.
“With all this at stake, our team will continue to meet with policymakers to highlight the critical role carbon capture projects will play to ensure the long-term viability of the ethanol industry and the future of our ag economy,” Harris said.
The bill now goes to the state Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, has not directly commented on the bill’s prospects,
“The legislative process will determine which of those policies have enough support to advance over the next several weeks,” Whitver said in a statement last month.
He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said earlier this week she had not spoken with House leaders about the bill. She has previously said she’s open to tweaks to the eminent domain process but emphasized the importance of the CO2 projects to the ethanol industry.
The group of a few dozen landowners and other activists opposed to the CO2 pipelines gathered outside the Iowa Capitol on Wednesday morning, using a semi truck emblazoned with “no hazardous carbon pipelines” as a backdrop.
Their message was the one they’ve been hammering all session: No eminent domain for private gain.
“These projects are about getting a blank check to a couple of CEOs and their Wall Street investors,” said Kim Junker, who farms land in Butler and Grundy counties. “Our tax dollars are not a piggy bank.”