116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — A key state lawmaker has called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain by companies proposing to build pipelines across Iowa.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chairs the House State Government Committee, made his proposal Wednesday, saying he wanted to protect landowners until the Legislature is back in session next year.
The committee adopted his amendment to prohibit the Iowa Utilities Board from granting eminent domain before March 1, 2023, at which time the moratorium would be repealed.
Pipeline companies could not seek the exercise of eminent domain during that time.
Democrats said they understood landowners’ concerns, but voted against his proposal because Kaufmann was hijacking Senate File 2022, a bill regulating cosmetology and barbering, to address an unrelated issue. They were joined by one Republican.
Kaufmann defended his approach, saying Iowans, especially the landowners who are in the pathway of proposed pipelines, don’t care about the process. They want results.
“The reason for us doing this today is because landowners who are potentially impacted want certainty,” Kaufmann said.
“I am not anti-pipeline” and not trying to interfere with negotiations between landowners and pipelines, he said. But the moratorium would give landowners a year to “go on without the threat of eminent domain over their heads.”
Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, referencing her family’s Century Farm, said she understood Kaufmann’s passion, “which is why it is so important to follow process.”
Since being elected in 2012, Kaufmann has made reining in the use of eminent domain one of his priorities. Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agency to take private property for public use with payment.
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, signaled his support for Kaufmann’s proposal.
“We also want (landowners) to know that the Legislature is watching this process,” he told Radio Iowa. “We would just want to give them some certainty that if eminent domain were ever to be on the table moving forward, the Legislature would be in session and be able to weigh in and try to avoid a situation where there could be mass condemnation.”
He doesn’t want to the Legislature to change the rules but let landowners and the pipeline companies “know that the Legislature just stands prepared to act if needed. We hope it doesn't come to that.”
A Senate bill on eminent domain hasn’t advanced, but Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said his members “are concerned about eminent domain in general … and will continue to watch these close to make sure that landowners are protected.”
House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, was less optimistic that the Kaufmann amendment would help landowners.
“I still think this pipeline issue is a bigger conversation we need to have with regard to landowner rights overall,” she said. Landowners deserve more than a “political play ... an amendment thrown on top here at the end of the funnel week.”
Concerns about the possible use of eminent domain have increased over the past year as three companies have proposed building underground pipelines across Iowa.
Many landowners on the pipelines’ proposed routes have decried the projects at informational meetings around the state since November. They have raised concerns about eminent domain, pipeline safety and whether the companies should get tax credits for projects that may make money for the owners but not help Iowans or the environment.
The Iowa Utilities Board has to approve the pipeline projects, including the potential step of using eminent domain to force the sale of easements to the companies.
The call for a moratorium is a bit of a reversal for Kaufmann, who describes himself as “pro-landowner.” In January, he announced that after “careful consideration,” he decided it wasn’t the time to change state law governing when property may be seized for pipelines.
Rushing eminent domain changes through the Legislature this year, he said then, would send the “wrong message” to businesses and to the landowners who’ve already signed easements for carbon pipelines and landowners still considering contracts.
That was after he said he was trying to craft a bill to require companies to get the support of at least 70 percent of landowners in a pipeline’s path before asking state to allow the use of eminent domain.
ADM has signed a letter of intent to build a 350-mile pipeline to transport liquefied CO2 from ethanol and cogeneration facilities in Cedar Rapids and Clinton to ADM’s already-operational sequestration site in Decatur, Ill.
Navigator, a Texas company, is proposing a 1,300-mile pipeline that would pass through 36 Iowa counties, including Linn, Benton, Cedar, Delaware and Iowa, capturing carbon dioxide at ethanol and fertilizer plants. The gas would be put under pressure, turned into liquid and piped to a site in south-central Illinois — near the ADM site.
Summit Carbon Solutions, which is planning a 2,000-mile pipeline through Iowa to North Dakota, said it has “worked in partnership with landowners to sign easements on more than 100 miles of the proposed route in Iowa.”
Additionally, Summit said it is finalizing agreements that include an additional 70 miles of the proposed route in the state.
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