The Iowa House has overwhelmingly passed a bill making it more difficult for companies that want to build pipelines for carbon sequestration to obtain the land necessary to do so.

The carbon pipelines are seen as critical to making corn ethanol eligible for key climate-related financial incentives and fuel standards. 

State House members voted 73-20, with five abstentions, to require any company that wants to build a liquefied carbon dioxide pipeline in Iowa to acquire 90% of the “affected route miles” through voluntary or pre-existing easements before the Iowa Utilities Board could consider a request for eminent domain. There is no threshold in current law.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, also addresses opportunities for compensation from damage caused by construction.

To the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the bill “would create a de facto ban on new projects that allow Iowa ethanol producers to install carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology.”

“While an amendment removed several problematic provisions, the bill still singles out CO2 pipelines for strict regulations that would not be applied to pipelines carrying flammable or explosive liquids,” IRFA said in a news release, adding it does not object to provisions in the bill designed to protect landowners. 

“If this is about property rights, why doesn’t the legislation impact all projects? If this is about safety, why doesn’t the bill apply to pipelines that carry explosive or flammable substances?” IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw asked in a news release.

Summit Carbon Solutions, one of three companies seeking to build a CO2 pipeline through the state, said it has acquired about 70% of the approximately 700 miles needed in the state, through 1,940 voluntary easement agreements with over 1,100 Iowa landowners. 

“This overwhelming level of support is a clear reflection that Iowa landowners view the project as critical to supporting the state's most important industries – ethanol and agriculture,” SCS said. 

The company and IRFA both cited data from an IRFA-sponsored study that found without carbon capture projects, Iowa’s ethanol industry will lose $10 billion per year and farm income would drop $43,000 for a typical 1,000-acre farm with production evenly split between corn and soybeans.

“With all this at stake, our team will continue to meet with policymakers to highlight the critical role carbon capture projects will play to ensure the long-term viability of the ethanol industry and the future of our ag economy,” Summit said.

Responding to questions, Navigator CO2 Ventures called Iowa's pipeline approval process "robust (and) thorough" and said it doesn't believe changes are needed."

"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," the company said. "We look forward to continue educating lawmakers as the legislative process plays out."

The company did not say what percentage of the pipeline miles it has acquired, instead saying it had spent $13.2 million to date on rights of way "across the project footprint, with $9.2 million of that in Iowa." 

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Navigator's proposed 1,300-mile "Heartland Greenway" project includes about 800 miles of pipeline in Iowa.

Another pipeline proposed by Wolf Carbon Solutions would require about 95 miles in the state, but Wolf said in a recent petition it does not intend to seek eminent domain for the project. 

The House vote was hailed by environmental groups who have said repeatedly that most people in the state don’t want the pipelines. Food & Water Watch said “opposition to the carbon pipelines is at a fever pitch,” citing a rally at the state Capitol attended by hundreds as well as polls showing 78% to 80% of Iowans are against the projects.

FWW said the parts of the bill that were removed through a last-minute amendment – the ones called ‘problematic” by IRFA – were in fact “critical provisions including a moratorium on pipeline permitting until federal safety regulations on hazardous carbon pipelines were finalized and provisions that required carbon pipeline companies to adhere to local laws.”

“The Senate and Gov. (Kim) Reynolds must strengthen and pass this legislation inclusive of a moratorium until federal carbon pipeline safety regulations are finalized and with provisions that require adherence to local safety laws,” FWW Senior Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit said.

Reynolds has previously said she does not believe the rules for the pipelines should be changed this late in the process. 

But IRFA’s Shaw said that “singling out CCS is a mistake for Iowa’s future. This bill will hurt Iowa ethanol production, which hurts Iowa corn prices, which hurts Iowa farmers and the economy.”

This story has been updated to include a comment from Navigator CO2 Ventures.

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