December 09, 2023

Carbon pipelines struggle to get Iowa landowners on board

In their fight against carbon pipelines in Iowa, landowners, conservation activists and farmers have shown the strength of working together.

Three companies, Summit, Navigator and Wolf are proposing building pipelines across Iowa that would trap carbon emissions from ethanol and fertilizer plants and store them underground. This captured carbon dioxide can also be used for fossil fuel extraction through enhanced oil recovery.

In order to build the pipelines, the companies must gain access to land. The easiest way for them to do so is to get the landowner to sign an easement - forfeiting a portion of their property to the project.

“Iowans are sending a strong message to Summit, Navigator and Wolf that we don’t want their carbon pipeline scams,” said Jess Mazour, Sierra Club Conservation program coordinator. “There are 1,500 parcels refusing to sign easements on the Summit route. Summit should pack its bags and stop wasting the time and resources of our state government, local governments, organizations and landowners. After a year of harassment and high pressure sales, it’s clear they are failing.”

Summit Carbon, the furthest along, filed a petition for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit with the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to construct, operate and maintain approximately 681 miles of 6 to 24-inch diameter pipeline for the transportation of liquefied carbon dioxide within Iowa, but the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) said if the company is not able to obtain more easements, IUB will not approve the petition.

The battle over property rights comes to a head Dec. 13 in Des Moines at an IUB scheduled hearing regarding federal preemption.

“The state decided to step in and say, Summit, you have to file a risk assessment, plume modeling and emergency response plan,” Mazour explained. “Summit said no, we’re not doing that; that would be preempting the federal government.”

Federal preemption states when state law and federal law conflict, federal law displaces, or preempts, state law, due to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

However, pipeline opponents say there are no federal laws or regulations to preempt.

“Carbon pipelines are relatively new,” Mazour said. “There are only 5,000 miles in the United States. There are no carbon pipeline regulations at the state and federal level.”

On Oct. 25, Story County passed a pipeline safety ordinance. They would now have to get county-approved permits to build and stay certain distances away from homes, farms, cities and schools. It tacks on a litany of requirements that throw a wrench in Summit’s pipeline plan.

Since then, other counties have followed with their own ordinances. In September, Adair County Supervisor Jody Hoadley said she is pushing for their board to file a similar ordinance as phase two of Navigator’s pipeline would run through the county as it connected from the Poet ethanol plants in Menlo and Corning.

Summit didn’t take long to respond, filing a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court for Southern District of Iowa against the Story County Board of Supervisors. The company is alleging the locally elected county supervisors are attempting to impose on the project “public safety” requirements that are the exclusive province of federal regulators.

The lawsuit alleges that some Iowa counties, including Story, have taken steps on their own to regulate pipelines. That’s improper, the lawsuit asserts, because the federal government regulates the safety of pipelines such as the one proposed by Summit, and the IUB has the statutory authority to issue route permits.

“In the federal pipeline regulator, they just completed an investigation on the Mississippi pipeline explosion,” Mazour said. “We don’t know that it’s safe. We need to get grants, funding and do research. Summit is trying to build as fast as possible to avoid federal regulations. They know the pipelines are dangerous.”

Navigator has now officially filed their petition for the pipeline, but haven’t filed any easements - meaning they either have not obtained any or are keeping it from public record.

The company requested a waiver from Iowa land restoration requirements, but after land owners made an uproar filing objections, three of the state legislators said no before Navigator withdrew the request.

In Iowa, 44 out of 56 impacted counties, including Adair, as well as 16 towns/cities have formally filed objections with the IUB.

“There’s no reason to rush any of these projects,” Mazour said. “We need to have safety in place at the state, federal and local level. Let’s just wait and see what the federal government says.”

Mazour said it’s been a battle of jurisdiction since the beginning. “Gov. (Kim) Reynolds has a lot of power. She appointments the members of the IUB and sign bills into law,” she said. “She’s been silent about this. They are her constituents, and she is throwing them under the bus. Sen. (Chuck) Grassley says it’s a state issue. Reynolds says it’s a federal issue. Iowans are getting hurt. Someone needs to care.”

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.