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

Carbon dioxide pipeline farmers
A House bill would impose new requirements for carbon dioxide pipelines and expand compensation for damage to farmland. (CREDIT JARED STRONG/IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH)

The three carbon dioxide pipelines proposed in Iowa are “economic development” projects that do not deserve the full weight of eminent domain to complete them, state Rep. Steven Holt, a Denison Republican, said Thursday.

Holt unveiled a new bill that was submitted that morning — and co-sponsored by 21 of his colleagues — that would impose a comprehensive set of restrictions on the use of eminent domain on carbon pipeline projects.

Some of the bill’s provisions govern the permitting and construction of the projects, and others give landowners more avenues for compensation for damage to their properties.

It has the potential to affect three companies’ proposals to carry captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in Iowa for out-of-state sequestration or other commercial uses.

Notably, the bill would require the carbon pipeline companies to obtain voluntary easements for at least 90% of the total route of their projects in Iowa to gain the power of eminent domain to force easements for the remaining 10% or less. That proposal has gained the public support of the powerful Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and increases the likelihood of the bill’s passage at the Statehouse, Holt said.

“I fundamentally do not believe that government should use the power and the blunt force of eminent domain to take other people’s property when it’s a private economic development project,” he said.

Holt said the decades-old laws that govern liquid hazardous pipelines — which historically have carried substances such as oil and anhydrous ammonia — didn’t contemplate the current carbon dioxide proposals.

The bill would also delay any permits for the projects until the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration finalizes safety guidelines for carbon dioxide pipelines, which Holt said was expected sometime next year.

In terms of new construction requirements, companies would have to abide by county zoning ordinances to determine the pipeline routes. At least two counties have recently adopted ordinances that set minimum distances from residences and other buildings.

And, under the new bill, pipelines could not be constructed in Iowa until companies had secured the necessary permits in other states to complete the entire project. The proposed pipelines of Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures would travel through five states, and Wolf Carbon Solutions’ is in two. Summit’s project runs about 680 miles in Iowa. Navigator proposes about 810 miles of pipe, and Wolf’s project has about 90 miles in the state.

Some landowners have been calling for new legislation that would protect them from eminent domain and other aspects of the projects. Five bills introduced in the Iowa Senate last month would limit or bar eminent domain for hazardous liquid pipelines, limit the companies’ ability to conduct land surveys and negotiate easements for that land, and require them to identify their investors.

None of those bills have received a subcommittee hearing date. Five companion bills in the Iowa House were introduced this week, but Holt said his bill has the best likelihood of passage.

“We believe that our approach is the more legally sound approach at this point that we could get support for and pass off the floor,” he said.

The pipeline companies have opposed major changes to their regulations in the past two legislative sessions.

“Iowa has one of the most robust, thorough processes already in place that guides the development of pipeline infrastructure, and we don’t see changes needed to that process,” said Andy Bates, a Navigator spokesperson. “We are committed to working collaboratively with landowners and negotiating in good faith to secure as much of the project footprint in a voluntary fashion as possible.”

Navigator has declined to disclose the percentage of its route in Iowa for which it has obtained voluntary easements. Summit said it recently surpassed the two-thirds threshold.

“A full two years after we announced our carbon capture project, we remain hopeful that the legislature will not change the regulatory rules in the middle of the game, particularly with the overwhelming level of support we have among Iowa landowners,” Summit said in a prepared statement.

Summit has already paid about $200 million to landowners that it would not recoup if the project stalls. The losses the companies would incur if there are rule changes have been a prominent argument against new legislation. More recently, ethanol advocates have said the pipelines are necessary for the industry to thrive in Iowa.

“Let’s talk about the landowners,” Holt said. “Let’s talk about the century farms that have been there for over 100 years. Let’s talk about these property owners that don’t want this pipeline under their farms. What about them? What about the rug being pulled out from under them?”

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