‘Drafting error’ would have exempted projects from carbon dioxide pipeline restrictions

Wolf Carbon carbon dioxide hazardous material pipeline
The revised route for Wolf Carbon Solution's pipeline through Linn County, as submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board Nov. 22, 2022. CREDIT IOWA UTILITIES BOARD

A draft of new legislation that would limit eminent domain for carbon dioxide pipelines erroneously included a provision that would exempt at least two pipeline companies from the proposed restrictions, a spokesperson for Iowa House Republicans said Monday.

House Republicans distributed the draft last week. The bill would require the companies to get voluntary easements for at least 90% of their routes before they could use eminent domain to get easements for the rest. Eminent domain allows the government to take private property for public benefit, with compensation to the landowner.

The bill also would allow counties to dictate how far from residences and other buildings the pipelines could be constructed. The legislation, if passed, would further delay permits for the pipelines until new federal safety guidelines are finalized.

But the draft bill also said those provisions wouldn’t apply to pipeline companies that have already submitted permit applications for their projects. That would exempt the current proposals of Navigator CO2 Ventures and Summit Carbon Solutions, which intend to build sprawling pipelines across wide areas of the state to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants.

Wolf Carbon Solutions has proposed a shorter pipeline in far eastern Iowa but has not yet filed for a permit with the state.

It’s unclear why the exemption was included in the bill. Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said last week that the bill is meant to defend the property rights of landowners in the pipelines’ paths.

“Sometimes we have to move quickly around here, and in my initial read I did not catch that the language would not have applied to those who had already applied for permits,” Holt said Monday afternoon. “As soon as this was pointed out to me, I put in corrective language.”

New Iowa House bill would restrict eminent domain for carbon dioxide pipelines

Melissa Deatsch, a spokesperson for House Republicans, said the inclusion of the exemption was “definitely a drafting error.”

Landowners who oppose the pipeline projects were initially dismayed by the exemption but were assured it would be removed from the bill.

“(Holt) had every intention — I know he did because we’ve had discussions for over a year now with this — that it would cover all three pipelines,” said Sherri Webb, who owns farmland in Holt’s district in Shelby County that would be affected by the Summit pipeline.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who is among more than 20 co-sponsors of the bill, could not be reached to comment for this article, but he told one of his constituents that the exemption would be rectified.

“He was a little bit taken aback,” said Kim Junker, who rents farmland near New Hartford that is on the path of Navigator’s proposed pipeline.

Junker spoke recently with Grassley about the exemption. “He said if there was something wrong in there — some wording error — that they would take care of that.”

The legislation drew a stiff rebuke on Monday from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, which lobbies for ethanol-friendly policies and said the bill is an unfair affront to the pipelines.

“This bill singles out for destruction the single most important technology we have to keep liquid fuels like ethanol competitive with electric vehicles in the rapidly growing low carbon transportation markets,” said Monte Shaw, the association’s executive director.

The association recently released a study with dire predictions for the state’s ethanol industry if the pipelines aren’t built. The study said Iowa ethanol producers would be put at a disadvantage to producers in other states that are able to capture and sequester carbon, enabling them to reap federal tax credits and access to low-carbon fuel markets.

The association said the new legislation would effectively ban carbon dioxide pipelines in Iowa and would punish pipeline companies that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of their projects.

“To change the rules midway through the process is unfair and quite possibly illegal,” the association said in its analysis of the bill.

Webb said her family has owned Shelby County farmland for 123 years and worries about the damage to the land that would accompany the construction of a pipeline.

“There are a lot of farmers out there that have owned this land forever,” she said. “And we spent a lot of money on our land, too. So who’s changing the rules?”

This story was originally published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch and is reprinted here with permission.