Environment, ethanol, jobs, profits all at stake in the C02 pipeline debate

Sioux City’s Mike Main demonstrated his opposition to the use of eminent domain for carbon capture companies to cross his farmland during last Tuesday’s rally at the Capitol in Des Moines. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

Robin Allen and Cindy Door-Harthan, both from Ayrshire, attended a rally on Capitol Hill Tuesday against the use of eminent domain to build carbon-capture pipelines in Iowa. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

More than 100 people attended a statewide rally Tuesday in Des Moines to show opposition to the use of eminent domain for the construction of carbon-capture pipelines in Iowa. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

A rally last Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines drew opponents of the use of eminent domain for the construction of carbon capture pipelines in Iowa, as well as supporters of the jobs that would be created by the projects and the benefits for the ethanol industry. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

Danny Hemminger of Laborers’ Local 43 Cedar Rapids, left, and Dylan Gramlich and Mike Weckman of Laborers’ Local 177 Des Moines, attend a statewide rally Tuesday in Des Moines to show support for pipeline construction, saying it means jobs and paychecks for them and their communities. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Proposals for three more pipelines in Iowa highlight divisions over the use of eminent domain to gain access to private property and produce alliances between groups that are often at odds with each other.

On one side are investors and developers who say they want to take carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from Iowa’s ethanol plants to underground sequestration sites. In an unusual pairing, they have been joined by some unions.

“Pipelines are a substantial part of our work,” Richie Schmidt, president of Laborers International Union of North America Local 177, said last Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol. LiUNA’s 3,500 members in Iowa include pipe installers pipelines, welders, heavy equipment operators, and truck drivers.

Schmidt and about two dozen union members holding signs reading “local jobs mean local paychecks” were outnumbered at a statewide rally organized by the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter and a coalition that opposes the use of eminent domain for pipeline construction.

About 100 “unusual bedfellows” — environmentalists, farmers, landowners, and property rights advocates, as well as opponents of large-scale agriculture and ethanol — called on the Iowa Board of Public Utilities to reject the construction of pipelines, which Ames environmental attorney Carolyn Raffensperger called “a sewer system for the fossil fuel industry.”

“Give me a break,” said Bill Gerhard of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council as he listened to Raffensperger. Pipelines would provide a safer and cleaner alternative to transporting CO2 by rail and truck. The benefits of the pipelines “should get the attention of environmentalists,” he said, holding up an “ethanol = energy independence” sign.

Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions/ADM have announced proposals to build underground pipelines that would transport CO2 from ethanol plants in Iowa to sequestration sites in North Dakota and Illinois.

Summit, the only one so far to submit its roadmaps for approval by Iowa regulators, could connect a dozen Iowa ethanol plants with one another to remove up to 12 million tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere. That would be the equivalent of taking more than 2.5 million cars a year off the road, Gerhard said. That would improve the economy of corn-based fuel and reduce the carbon footprint of ethanol production.

However, unlike the CO2 in the breath people exhale or what they drink in carbonated beverages, the CO2 in pipes is concentrated and pressurized, pipe opponents warn.

“Those differences pose unique safety risks and greatly increase the potential area affected” if a pipeline breaks, according to a Pipeline Safety Trust report issued in March. “CO2 pipeline ruptures can affect areas measured in miles, not feet.”

Furthermore, CO2 is a potentially lethal asphyxiant. If released from a pipe, it would be heavier than air and the high-velocity emissions would form clouds of cold, dense gas mist, according to the report. As it heats up, plumes of CO2 can flow considerable distances unobserved, displacing oxygen as they settle or fill low-lying areas.

Somewhere between the pipeline companies and those who agree with Raffensperger are people like Sioux City’s Mike Main, who waved a “No easement. No Eminent Domain sign” in the Capitol rotunda. His 80 acres of farmland in Woodbury County could be traversed by a $4.5 billion, 2,000-mile pipeline from Iowa to North Dakota proposed by Iowa-based Summit.

Main’s opposition to channeling, in general, is “soft.”

“But I am completely against eminent domain for the benefit of private investors,” he said.

That may be the glue that binds the coalition together.

The companies proposing pipelines “can’t build this, operate it, or make money without using other people’s property,” according to Raffensperger, executive director of the Science & Environmental Health Network and former state president of the Sierra Club.

Individual landowners like Main are taking on private corporations in a “race to steal new federal tax credits meant to be used to develop green solutions,” according to the Iowa Pipeline Resistance Coalition.

However, Jesse Harris of LS2, a Des Moines public affairs firm that represents Summit, said opponents are getting ahead of themselves. In his application to the Iowa Board of Public Utilities, Summit requested the use of eminent domain, but said he wasn’t sure it was necessary.

“In my opinion, it’s too early to have conversations about eminent domain,” he said. “It’s about finding voluntary agreements with owners that are beneficial to them and also allow our project to move forward.”

In addition to public utility board briefings in the counties about the proposed routes, Summit has more meetings with landowners scheduled in the coming weeks, he said.

“Any time we can have a conversation with a homeowner, we think we can move forward in terms of addressing their concerns about the pipeline route (and) other issues that exist,” Harris said. As of Jan. 31, Summit had obtained 290 voluntary easements, according to the public utility board.

During multiple public briefings held for the proposed Summit and Navigator pipelines, services board staff discussed eminent domain, spokesman Don Tormey said. “Just because it was mentioned in briefings doesn’t mean companies should use eminent domain.”

In the case of the Summit pipeline that could impact more than 8,000 acres of farmland, more than half of the counties on the route have filed objections.

The Iowa Legislature is involved following the House adoption of an amendment by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, to bar the Iowa Board of Public Utilities from scheduling eminent domain hearings for pipeline construction until after February 1, 2023.

Historically, both parties have favored limits on eminent domain. Iowa Republicans, according to their platform, “oppose the federal or state government that takes private property from the owner for the use of another private party.” Iowa Democrats oppose “eminent domain abuse.”

In 2006, after the landmark decision Kelo v. New London of the US Supreme Court that expanded the permissible use of eminent domain from “public use” to “public benefit,” the Iowa House and Senate voted 90-8 and 41-8, respectively, override former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s veto of a bill that would limit the power of local governments to seize private property.

In Iowa, a company applying for the right of eminent domain must establish that the project is “reasonably related to a conceivable public purpose.” Tormey said. “The IUB uses precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court, as well as IUB precedent to determine whether or not to grant eminent domain.”

Rep. Steve Hansen, a Sioux City Democrat, questioned the value of Kaufmann’s amendment that simply “drops the can by the wayside … but doesn’t remove the threat of eminent domain.”

“Eminent domain is always politically charged, whether it’s a pipeline or a shopping mall,” Hansen said. “It is a multi-headed problem because there may be landowners who are not willing and there are doubts about whether it is a public good or if it is done solely for private profit.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, agrees that the amendment does not eliminate the possible use of eminent domain. However, it gives landowners “reassurance that they are not going to wake up one day and all of a sudden all these procedures are happening and they feel like the world is collapsing.”

None of the pipeline routes cross his family’s Butler County farmland, but two of the lines could cut through territory Grassley represents in the Legislature. Voters have not been shy about making his sentiments known, he said.

Some landowners have entered into voluntary agreements granting easements to pipeline companies on their property. Some are in negotiations and others are resisting, he said.

“So there are people on all sides of the issue,” Grassley said. “I hope people respect the fact that the Legislature doesn’t go in and try to pick winners and losers. We are letting the process unfold itself.”

Kaufmann’s amendment doesn’t go as far as legislation that freshman Sen. Rich Taylor, a Sioux Center Republican, proposed to strip the board of public utilities of the authority to grant eminent domain to private companies. He calls that power unconstitutional, but admitted the Kelo case created a “broader, softer” interpretation.

“It’s wrong, it’s unfair to take property like that,” Taylor said.

Kaufmann’s amendment is in a budget bill that is likely to be amended by the Senate. If senators don’t like it, they’ll have to vote to remove it.

“Those who support eminent domain (for private use) are swimming against the tide of popular opinion,” said Taylor, who will support Kaufmann’s amendment.

Until he sees the bill in its final form, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, doesn’t know where his group will stand.

“But I do think there is general agreement that we should be looking very closely at this issue, given the amount of energy we are seeing across the state,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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