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Iowa Senate panel advances bill to limit eminent domain for carbon and other pipelines

kathy stockdale shows a map of her farm to lawmakers
Katarina Sostaric
Kathy Stockdale of Iowa Falls shows lawmakers how a proposed carbon pipeline would cut through her land.

A Senate panel advanceda bill Tuesday that would take away the Iowa Utilities Board’s ability to grant eminent domain rights to private companies, including those that propose carbon pipelines in the state.

Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures, and ADM/Wolf Carbon solutions are planning to seek permits from state regulators to build pipelines that would transport carbon emissions from ethanol and fertilizer plants to Illinois and North Dakota to be sequestered underground.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, said he sponsored the bill in response to concerns from farmers and local governments in northwest Iowa about the pipelines. He said the bill is not about opposition to specific carbon pipelines, rather, it’s about private property rights.

“There is neither constitutional nor ethical justification for government to use its coercive power to seize private land, or force an easement primarily for the benefit of wealthy, well-connected business owners,” Taylor said.

Several landowners came to the Statehouse Tuesday to speak in support of the bill. They said they are worried state regulators will approve private companies’ request to seize some of their land for the pipelines.

Dan Tronchetti of Paton said he and his wife have been farmers for more than 40 years.

“I thought I had property rights,” he said. “But Summit Carbon is telling me I don’t have property rights, that they can ask for eminent domain. And that I might as well go ahead and sign a voluntary easement. And I guess I just can’t believe that 40 years of hard work doesn’t mean anything.”

Kathy Stockdale of Iowa Falls said the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline would cut her farm in half, and the Navigator CO2 Ventures pipeline might also affect her property.

“We have 30 acres of wetlands right over here…this is where the highly erodible land is,” she said. “So we are concerned because it is very sandy soil. And when there’s rain, what’s going to happen to the pipe underneath?”

Lobbyists for Summit and Navigator said they opposed the bill because they are already in the process of trying to get permission from landowners and have held informational meetings across the state. They also say the pipelines will help boost demand for ethanol, thereby benefiting Iowa farmers.

Summit Carbon Solutions lobbyist Jeff Boeyink said the bill would stop their pipeline.

“And that means all the tens of millions of dollars that have already been invested are lost,” Boeyink said. “And this project goes nowhere. Farmers get no benefit. The ethanol plants we sign up are done. So there’s an inherent unfairness of pulling the rug and changing the rules after this development process is started.”

Sen. Craig Williams, R-Manning, responded that carbon pipelines were not conceivable in Iowa when the state’s eminent domain laws were written.

“You talked about people not wanting to do business in the state because of rules being changed in the middle,” Williams said. “Imagine owning a piece of property for 100 years and then having the rules change or somebody taking it from you. So I’m just going to state that I’m not appreciative of some of the comments that you just made.”

All three senators on the panel agreed to advance the bill, but they said it needs changes.

Sen. Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, said the bill would rule out too many kinds of pipeline projects.

“The bill, in my opinion, just doesn’t get accomplished what we want to get accomplished without collateral damage,” Klimesh said. “And the collateral damage…kind of tipped the scales the other direction maybe too far.”

Commerce Committee Chair Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said he intends for his committee to consider the bill Wednesday ahead of a legislative deadline for bills to advance.

Eminent domain bill stalled in the House

A separate billin the Iowa House would require pipeline companies to get approval from at least 90 percent of landowners in the pipeline’s path before beginning construction. The bill has not had a hearing.

Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, is the lead bill sponsor. He said two of the proposed pipelines would go through his district, and he has constituents on both sides of the issue.

“The concerns of eminent domain are valid, I mean, completely valid,” Stone said. “Landowners, they have rights, and so we’re here to protect those rights. We’re also here to move Iowa forward and protect and enhance an industry, whether it’s ethanol or education.”

Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City, told the House that lawmakers should take up eminent domain policy this session to help landowners.

“So there’s going to be winners and there’s going to be losers…why should there be losers so people can make millions of dollars?” Hansen asked. “I don’t think that’s right.”

In the first week of the legislative session, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton,said he wanted to work on a similar proposal. Soon after, he said he would not pursue the legislation.

“After careful thought, I have determined that now is not the right time to make changes in the current process while two carbon capture pipeline projects have already signed up hundreds of willing landowner participants and continue to negotiate voluntary easements,” he said in a statement last month.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter