Branstad hasn't taken position on oil pipeline through Iowa

Governor says he needs more information on Texas company's proposal

The Keystone Oil Pipeline is pictured under construction in North Dakota in this undated photograph released on January
The Keystone Oil Pipeline is pictured under construction in North Dakota in this undated photograph released on January 18, 2012. (REUTERS/TransCanada Corporation/Handout/Files)

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he does not plan to take a position on a proposed crude oil pipeline that would stretch diagonally across Iowa until he has more information about the project that a Texas company has slated to be built and in operation by the end of 2016.

“I have not taken a position on it,” said Branstad, who supports building the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada through U.S. states west of Iowa. “I want to learn more about it and I want to make sure that the procedures are appropriately followed.”

A Dallas company, Energy Transfer Partners L.P. has announced it plans to have a 1,100-mile-long crude oil pipeline crossing through four states, including Iowa running diagonally through 17 counties from the state’s northwestern-most county to the southeast. The proposed pipeline would stretch from the Bakken supply area in North Dakota to Pakota, Ill.

During his weekly news conference on Monday, Branstad told reporters that he first found out about plans for the project from news reports.

He said there is an extensive process that has to be followed via the Iowa Utilities Board before any pipeline would be approved, including determining whether the project is economically feasible and working with all farmers and property owners that would be affected along the yet-to-be-finalized Iowa route.

“I would expect this is something that would take considerable time,” he said.

State officials indicated last week that the energy company has requested an informal meeting with the Iowa Utilities Board, but it has not filed any formal petitions.

To put a pipeline on private property, Energy Transfer Partners must obtain the necessary rights from the landowner through voluntary easement or eminent domain as well as provide a land restoration plan, showing how restoration laws will be met. It also will have to hold informational meetings for the public in each of the 17 counties the pipeline could affect before a petition and review process begins.

Branstad told reporters Monday that using eminent domain to acquire easements can be warranted for public purposes, such as building roads, bridges and pipelines, but he added that it can be a “controversial subject” in dealing with agricultural areas that have tiling lines and other complications.

“It’s a delicate balance and an individual’s property rights in this country are very important,” he said. “There are sometimes instances where there’s a significant public good that would authorize the use of eminent domain. I think it should only be used in a very limited circumstance and primary rights of way should be acquired through negotiations and from willing participants.”

Branstad’s opponent in the 2014 governor’s race, Democratic state Sen. Jack Hatch of Des Moines, also has taken a go-slow approach to the proposed pipeline, saying he wants time to review the project and to study the environmental, economic, and safety implications.

“A project such as this has huge implications for everyone in our state, this is something that should be done in the open and with the consent of our citizens — not unilaterally jammed down our throats by bureaucrats, lobbyists, and lawyers,” Hatch said in a statement. “I will make a judgment once I have all the facts and opinions of Iowans.”

Some environmental groups already have expressed concern about the proposed pipeline.

On another energy front Monday, Branstad blasted officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to abide by a promised June deadline for deciding the fate of the nation’s Renewable Fuels Standard — foot dragging that he blamed for a decline in corn prices which are affected by production of the corn-derived ethanol fuel.

“Why hasn’t the EPA decided on this issue of the renewable fuel standard?” Branstad told reporters. “We were promised that decision would be made by the end of June. Here we are in the middle of July and it’s still not been made.

“Do you know what’s happened to the price of corn since they started this foolishness?” the governor added, noting a bushel of corn dropped from $5.50 to below $4 a bushel — which he noted is below the cost of production.

Branstad said the delay is damaging America’s energy competitiveness and EPA officials should restore the renewable energy standard. “They’ve caving into Big Oil for some reason that I don’t understand way,” he said. “They have delayed and delayed and delayed.”

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