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New Iowa bill would block eminent domain for carbon pipelines for one year

The proposed Iowa route of Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon dioxide pipeline would run some 700 miles through 30 of the state's 99 counties.
Courtesy: Summit Carbon Solutions
The proposed Iowa route of Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon dioxide pipeline would run some 700 miles through 30 of the state's 99 counties.

House Republican lawmakers are making a last-minute effort to address Iowa landowners’ concerns about the potential use of eminent domain for carbon pipelines.

A new proposal that was introduced and advanced Wednesday would prohibit private pipeline companies from seeking eminent domain rights before March 1, 2023.

That would delay for a year the possibility of carbon pipeline companies taking some land from property owners who don’t agree to have a pipeline cross their land.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said the bill would ensure the legislature is in session when the pipeline companies would potentially be seeking eminent domain rights.

“We just want landowners and…the companies trying to do this to know that the legislature just stands prepared to act if needed,” Grassley said. “We hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Three privately-owned carbon pipelines are currently being planned in Iowa. They would capture carbon dioxide from ethanol plants and transport it out of state to be buried underground. Farmers, landowners and environmentalists have been joining together to oppose easements and to push lawmakers to limit the use of eminent domainfor these pipelines.

Ted Junker, a landowner from Butler County, was at Wednesday’s meeting at the Statehouse. He said he supports the new bill because landowners need some protection as pipeline companies are trying to get landowners to agree to the pipelines.

“They’re using a strong arm policy, I would say,” Junker said. “And the first thing that comes out of their mouth after you tell them no, you’re not interested [is], ‘Well, we’re going to get it by eminent domain anyway.’ And that’s their spiel. That’s their negotiation. This will help stop that and make them truly negotiate for easements.”

Rep. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, voted against the bill along with the other Democrats present and one Republican lawmaker.

“I know that this is a last minute Hail Mary, but it doesn’t do what is necessary,” Donahue said. “If this amendment gave it a three year moratorium, so we had some time to work on this and do some fixes, I’d be a yes today. If this was a bill…that prevented the utility board from using eminent domain on private property for profit, I would be for this.”

Other Democrats criticized the process the GOP majority used to advance the bill.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, led the House State Government Committee in amending a bill about cosmetology to instead deal with eminent domain shortly before a key legislative deadline, with little notice to the public.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said the public wasn’t given enough notice to participate in the subcommittee meeting.

“That’s their time to weigh in,” she said. “And then we have that opportunity to request a public hearing if that’s what we choose to do. So those are the kinds of reasons why this process matters.”

Kaufmann said no one should be surprised by the maneuver he used to switch out the contents of a bill.

“We do things all the time to make sure that legislation gets accomplished,” Kaufmann said. “The people back home that are affected by their land, they don’t give a s*** about the process. They care about results.”

Summit Carbon Solutions, one of the companies proposing a pipeline, released a statement after the bill was voted out of committee. It said the company is continuing to negotiate voluntary easements with landowners.

“These ongoing interactions demonstrate that the system designed by the legislature and overseen by the Iowa Utilities Board is working and working well,” the statement reads. “Summit Carbon Solutions looks forward to continuing to work with the members and staff of the Iowa Utilities Board under the current regulatory framework.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter