DES MOINES — House lawmakers and landowners impacted by proposed carbon dioxide capture pipelines continue to push Senate Republicans for restrictions on the ability for private companies to use eminent domain to build the projects.

Eminent domain refers to the government’s power to take private property for public benefit.

House File 2522 advanced out of the House Ways & Means Committee Tuesday on a 23-0 bipartisan vote.

Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, abstained from voting as her family owns land that would be directly impacted by the pipelines.

The bill would allow an applicant before the Iowa Utilities Board seeking eminent domain, or landowners affected by an eminent domain proceeding, to petition a court for a declaratory order to determine their rights and the constitutionality of the eminent domain request.

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The court would be able to determine, before the Iowa Utilities Board makes a final decision, whether the use of eminent domain to involuntarily take land is warranted by the proposed project. That decision could be appealed to higher courts.

“I think both entities deserve the right to know ahead of time if eminent domain is actually something that is applicable for that project so that months, if not years, of stress, financial strain, lawyer fees etc. are not wasted, if in the end a declaratory judgment for eminent domain is never going to happen,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, chair of the House Ways & Means Committee.

The House has passed bills the last two sessions limiting the scope of eminent domain for carbon capture pipeline projects, but they have not received hearings in the Senate.

“I think this is the bare minimum the state can do, and I think this is a good, fair piece of public policy for all things related to eminent domain,” Kuafmann said.

A spokesman for Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Two companies proposing CO2 pipelines in Iowa

Two pipelines are proposed in Iowa that would deposit CO2 extracted from ethanol plants in Iowa to underground sequestration sites in Illinois and North Dakota.

Summit Carbon Solutions has proposed a five-state pipeline that would cross about 690 miles in Iowa. The company has asked for eminent domain authority along the route of the project, which is awaiting approval from the Iowa Utilities Board.

Bruce Rastetter, a major Republican donor and backer of Gov. Kim Reynolds, leads pipeline company Summit Carbon Solutions.

Another company, Wolf Carbon Solutions, proposes building a smaller pipeline covering five Eastern Iowa counties including Linn County. The company has said it does not intend to use eminent domain for its construction.

The issue has split both the Republican and Democratic caucuses, as competing interests from agriculture, labor, landowners and environmentalists have led to a wide range of positions on the issue.

Lobbyist: Bill doesn’t stop pipelines, but does protect property rights

Opponents have been making weekly trips to the Capitol to urge lawmakers to enact stricter eminent domain restrictions.

“We’ve had hurdles thrown in our way every single week for the past three years. But we’re still here,” said Jessica Mazour with the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We’re still coming back to the Capitol because that’s how much we care about our land, and our communities and our families. And right now we have this massive injustice of these three incredibly powerful pipeline companies … coming in and stopping bills from moving forward, you know, holding our Iowa Utilities Board hostage in making any sort of decisions. It’s been completely unfair.”

Mazour urged House lawmakers to pass but also strengthen the bill to provide a fair decision-making process during appeals, by making it easier for entities and counties to ask for a pause in construction if a pipeline project gets approved by the Iowa Utilities Board.

“The only way to stop construction while you’re working your case to the court is to put up hundreds of millions of dollars in bond,” she said. “And the counties don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars. Landowners don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars. My organization doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to devote to stopping construction. … Can we strengthen it so that we have a fair shot in the courts during an appeal? Because we don’t want the pipeline to be built while we’re still waiting on a decision.”

Victoria Sinclair, a lobbyist representing Land of the Free Action, said the bill does not stop pipelines, but rather changes the order of the process to protect property rights. Sinclair noted it can take years for pipeline projects to receive regulatory and legal approval.

“Meanwhile, anybody who hasn’t chosen to voluntarily sign an easement has an encumbrance on their land for the entirety the time that this process drags out,” she said. “So it could be five, seven, maybe more years as things play out in court. That’s ridiculous. And it’s taking away their property rights without their consent.”

Wally Taylor, legal chair of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bill could allow for a temporary injunction to prevent pipeline companies from using the threat of eminent domain to intimidate landowners into signing easements.

Instead, landowners could go to court to force private pipeline companies to show that the projects serve the public.

Landowner ‘totally disillusioned and disappointed’ by process

Reducing the carbon footprint of Iowa’s ethanol production has become increasingly important as newer technologies, such as electric vehicles, gain steam and the Biden administration focuses on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents argue the private economic development projects do not meet the constitutional requirement for public use.

Floyd County landowner Kathy Carter said she and other impacted property owners have been under “immense” physical, mental, emotional and financial stress “pushing three years,” since they received notice the pipelines would be going through their property.

“It’s a waiting game at this point,” Carter said. “It’s frustrating because we talk to House members who say they are supportive of us, but we can’t do anything because the Senate won’t do anything. Well, we talked to senators and they say, ‘Well, we don’t have enough votes to do anything.’”

Cynthia Hansen, a Shelby County landowner, said she’s been “totally disillusioned and disappointed with what I’ve seen in the last three years.”

“I am for this bill because at least we’d have a chance of knowing ahead of time whether or not we’re going to lose our land, and not have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars (in attorney and legal fees), and thousands and thousands miles on the road” traveling to and from Des Moines to meet with lawmakers and sit through an eight-week public hearing in Fort Dodge.

The bill is now eligible for debate and a vote in the full House.

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