In a packed-to-capacity community room in Boone, the three-member Iowa Utility Board heard testimony today over the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, which would carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, across Iowa, to Illinois.
Before testimony got underway, opponents of the pipeline staged a protest outside the community building on the Boone County Fairgrounds.
"The very last thing that we should be doing in response to the threat of climate change is to build more oil extraction and transportation infrastructure," Jonas Magram of Fairfield shouted into a megaphone, as other opponents huddled together against the cold wind.
"We have a little chant that we're going to do," Kathy Holdefer of Mingo, told the crowd, "and then when we go into the community building, we're going to be Iowa nice."
They chanted "Dakota Access let's be clear, we don't want your pipeline here!" until they lined up with others to have their bags checked as they entered the building. Dakota Access is the formal name for the pipeline project from Energy Transfer Partners.
Inside, pipeline supporters made their own statement. Workers sat in colorful groups, like the Laborers International Union of North America in their bright orange sweatshirts.
Utilities board member Geri Huser banged a gavel to kick off the long day, with more than 275 people signed up for two-minute slots. Proponents focused on jobs, domestic energy and perceived public support.
"People are going to refer to our jobs as temporary jobs, as a laborer, as a construction worker, every job is temporary. But being a laborer is a career," said Mike Matejka of Des Moines.
"I realize the importance of U.S. energy independence, jobs in America and the equal rights for both women as well as men to be treated fairly in a safe working environment," said Mistie Ren, also of Des Moines. "I support clean energy and union labor and I support our energy dollars staying in this country, so I am in favor of the Dakota Access pipeline."
"Despite critics, the fact is, a majority of landowners in Iowa, where the pipeline crosses, support the project," added Ryan Hollinrake. All three identified themselves as union laborers; Hollinrake's comment about landowner support drew some jeers from the crowd.
Opponents had their own recurring talking points about agriculture and the environment, private property rights, and safety.
Farmland owner Marcy Good said the pipeline threatens her family farm, which has been in Boone County since 1856.
"But even though we own the land, we don't get to choose whether or not the pipeline goes into our farmland," she said. "We must defer to you, the Iowa Utilities Board for that decision."
"What is eminent domain by an out-of-state non-profit [sic] corporation other than unreasonable seizure? How dare a public regulatory board consider this? How dare Dakota Access consider this?" asked Ann Christenson of Iowa City, who called herself a member of 100 Grannies for a Fossil Fuel Free Future.
"A crude oil spill is a disaster," said Patrick Bosold of Fairfield. "Sooner or later it is going to happen with this pipeline. Let us consider alternatives, please. There is no such thing as a solar spill or a wind spill."
After the day's public testimony, the three-member Board has 10 days scheduled for evidentiary hearings, when Dakota Access will make its case that the pipeline "will promote the public convenience and necessity." An additional public meeting is possible after that, before the board makes its final decision.