Iowa House pipeline restrictions clear committee as deadline approaches

Carbon dioxide pipelines eminent domain restrictions Iowa House
Landowners who oppose eminent domain for carbon dioxide pipelines worry about property damage and safety. CREDIT JARED STRONG/IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH

A bill that would require carbon dioxide pipeline companies to get voluntary easements for at least 90% of their routes — among other new requirements — was approved 12-7 by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and will be eligible for consideration beyond this week.

“For me, the right and wrong here could not be more clear,” said Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, who has been the leading voice for the bill in the House. “Our constitutional protections are not for sale to the highest bidder.”

House File 368 would prevent the companies from using eminent domain to force easements from landowners until they eclipse the 90% threshold for voluntary agreements. It would also give counties new authority to restrict carbon dioxide pipeline routes and delay permits for them until new federal safety guidelines are finalized, which will likely happen next year.

The bill would also give landowners more avenues for compensation for damage to their land from pipeline construction.

The committee’s vote came a day after an Iowa Senate subcommittee failed to advance a competing proposal that would only require two-thirds voluntary easements and wouldn’t apply to three current pipeline proposals.

The companies want to build more than 1,500 miles of pipeline in the state to transport captured carbon dioxide away from ethanol plants for out-of-state sequestration or other purposes.

There are lucrative federal incentives for ethanol plants to sequester their carbon that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere, and industry officials have said Iowa’s plants would be at a competitive disadvantage to those in other states if they are unable to take advantage of the incentives.

Opponents of the pipelines worry about damage to farmland and the safety risks posed by pipeline leaks. They further argue that it’s wrong for eminent domain to be used to benefit private companies.

“I believe eminent domain should only be used for essential government services — public use — and the CO2 pipeline does not meet that definition,” Holt said.

The bill faced an early challenge Tuesday from Rep. Jon Dunwell, R-Newton. He proposed an amendment that would have stripped the bill of its major components and replaced them with limited provisions to help compensate people for land damage and shield them from potential harassment by the companies. He said the use of eminent domain deserves further consideration beyond its use by carbon dioxide pipeline companies.

“I believe we need to have that larger discussion,” Dunwell said, “because we have wind towers, we have solar arrays, we have more transmission lines coming down the road and a host of other areas that will involve eminent domain. And we need to be having that discussion, putting together a long-term policy that addresses all of our future needs in this area.”

The amendment failed 11-8.

Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, introduced three amendments that also failed. They would have: increased the voluntary easement requirement to 100%; changed the effective date of the bill so that it doesn’t impact existing pipeline proposals, and make the proposed new requirements applicable to all pipelines.

Lohse said shifting the rules that govern the pipelines after the companies have already filed for permits might open the state and counties to litigation.

“I don’t want the state or the county be on the hook for that particular bill,” he said.

Under legislative rules, most policy bills that don’t include tax or spending provisions must clear a full committee in the House or Senate this week to remain eligible for debate. House File 368 moves next to debate by the full House.

Originally published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.