Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed pipeline route. (Main image courtesy Summit Carbon Solutions; sea

Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed pipeline route. (Main image courtesy Summit Carbon Solutions; seal courtesy State of Iowa)

Eminent domain can used in Iowa, but project still needs approval in the Dakotas

The three-member Iowa Utilities Board gave its approval Tuesday June 25, 2024 for the controversial Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline and for the company to use eminent domain to acquire landowners’ property. 

The company hopes to begin construction next year with the goal of making the pipeline operational in 2026. The pipeline, which would be the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, would carry liquified carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in Iowa and surrounding states to a site in North Dakota, where the company hopes for reconsideration and approval of a previously denied permit.

The pipeline would cross more than 2,000 miles across five states, including nearly 700 miles in Iowa. In planning the pipeline, Summit has partnered with 57 ethanol plants and the company says it has signed voluntary easement agreements with 75% of the Iowa route’s landowners.

In giving its approval to the project, the Iowa Utilities Board ruled that Summit cannot begin construction in Iowa until the necessary permits are secured in South Dakota and North Dakota. The board also stated Summit will be able to use eminent domain in Iowa to force the sale of land from property owners who are opposed to the use of the property for the project.

In the wake of that decision, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, said the rights of Iowa landowners are the one of the “highest priorities” of House Republicans.

“This just further confirms what we already knew — that the Iowa Legislature must conduct a comprehensive review and update the state’s eminent domain laws,” Grassley said. “We will seek feedback from Iowans on the best way forward and in the meantime, I stand ready to assist my constituents however I can.”

The Iowa House approved legislation the past two sessions that would have given landowners more leverage over pipeline negotiations. In 2023, the House passed a bill requiring pipeline companies to obtain voluntary easements for 90% of their routes before they could use eminent domain for the rest. This year, the House votedto allow landowners who are subject to eminent domain requests by carbon dioxide pipeline companies to challenge the legitimacy of those requests in court earlier in the permit proceedings. Neither bill advanced in the Senate.

The proposed pipeline has been the focus of intense public debate over the past 30 months, with farmers, environmentalists and pipeline safety advocates voicing their opposition. In August 2023, Summit was denied permits in North Dakota, and one month later it was denied permits in South Dakota.

In response to the board’s action, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Jim Walsh blamed Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for a decision that he said will benefit corporations at the expense of Iowa’s rural communities.

“Summit’s carbon pipeline scam is nothing but a gift to Big Ag and the polluting ethanol industry,” Walsh said. “The pipeline poses substantial risks to public safety and will do little to nothing to reduce climate pollution. Gov. Reynolds’s administration is at the center of this decision, and the whole project is made possible by massive federal tax credits and subsidies for the dangerous and unnecessary carbon capture industry. While Summit stands to make billions, it is our climate and communities that lose out.”

Summit: Approval a ‘significant milestone’

In a written statement, Summit called the Iowa Utilities Board’s approval “a significant milestone not for just Summit Carbon Solutions, but for the entire agriculture industry as it seeks access to new and emerging markets, like sustainable aviation fuel, by lowering ethanol’s carbon intensity score.”

Lee Blank, CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions, predicted the project’s “momentum” will continue as the company pursues permit reconsideration in North Dakota and prepares to file a new South Dakota permit application in early July.

“We look forward to engaging with the state throughout this process and are confident in a successful outcome,” Blank said of the South Dakota effort.

In the two and half years since the Iowa Utilities Board first began weighing Summit’s permit application, the board has filed tens of thousands of pages of testimony and exhibits, heard testimony from more than 200 witnesses, and considered 4,180 comments, objections, and letters of support for the project.

Utilities board members issue dissents

As part of the board’s approval on Tuesday, Iowa Utilities Board Chairman Erik Hell

and issued a partial dissent in which he agreed with all of the findings and conclusions except for the condition that prohibits construction in Iowa until North Dakota and South Dakota have given their approval. Helland said such a condition essentially gives away the board’s authority to another jurisdiction.

Board member Joshua Byrnes also issued a partial dissent, taking issue with the approval of a lateral route between the Quad County Corn Processors facility in Ida County and the Green Plains Shenandoah facility in Fremont County. Byrnes argued that portion of the route was not justified or proper.

Before the board gives its separate approval for construction permits, Summit will have to submit what the board called “numerous revised exhibits.” The company will also have to secure and maintain a $100 million insurance policy, and it will be required to compensate landowners for any damages that result from the pipeline’s construction.

Walsh said that while Summit “has won this round in Iowa, this is not the end of the line. There are still decisions at the federal and state levels that will determine whether this dangerous pipeline is ever built. The IUB’s approval of this dangerous project underscores the urgent need for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to update the outdated regulations for carbon dioxide pipelines before any other authorizations are issued.”

This article was originally published at the Iowa Captiol Dispatch here:

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