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Iowa House approves eminent domain rules for carbon capture pipelines

 Iowans gathered for a protest against carbon capture pipelines Wednesday before the House passed a bill regarding eminent domain.
Katarina Sostaric
Iowans gathered for a protest against carbon capture pipelines Wednesday before the House passed a bill regarding eminent domain.

The Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would ban the use of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines unless 90% of the route is first acquired through voluntary land sales.

The bill was amended during debate and would put fewer restrictions on carbon pipelines than the original proposal.

Lead bill sponsor Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said the 90% threshold is the most important part. He said he believes eminent domain shouldn’t be used at all for the carbon pipelines.

“But I believe that I must advance legislation that protects landowners to the greatest extent possible, has a chance of being signed into law, and takes into account the reality that the use of eminent domain for these CO2 pipelines is already allowed in Iowa code,” Holt said.

He said he doesn’t oppose the carbon capture pipelines, but he thinks they should be built with the voluntary participation of landowners, not by using the government to acquire land against the owners' will.

The bill would also expand some protections for landowners if their land is damaged by a pipeline.

It passed with a vote of 73 to 20, with bipartisan support and opposition.

Some lawmakers who voted against the bill, including Rep. Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine, said the bill doesn’t do enough to protect private property rights. He said eminent domain is theft.

“And why is the government in a hurry to facilitate this theft of its citizens?” Cisneros asked. “To better your community? To improve quality of life or safe conditions of others in your county? For public good? Not even close. Your government is in a hurry to facilitate this theft so that a single corporation can shovel more of our federal tax dollars into its bank account.”

House Democrats were also split in their votes on the bill.

Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, opposed it.

“If a majority of this body believes that carbon dioxide pipelines are without public merit, then have the courage to simply block their construction by law,” he said. “Don’t put the burden of the decision on a small group of landowners to hold out, resulting no doubt in a besiegement if the bill becomes law.”

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said she was supporting the bill because her constituents asked her to.

“This bill is not perfect,” she said. “However, it is here before us because of my constituents, and because of the other Iowans that spoke out.”

At a rally before the vote Wednesday, Butler County farmer and pipeline opponent Kim Junker criticized lawmakers for watering down the bill.

“It’s time to put Iowans first, not corporations,” she said. “It’s time to defend our agricultural industry, not Wall Street. Iowa claims to have fields of opportunities, but if our legislature doesn’t act, all we’ll have is fields of carbon pipelines.”

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw said in a statement that the group was disappointed by the vote.

“This bill will hurt Iowa ethanol production, which hurts Iowa corn prices, which hurts Iowa farmers and the economy,” Shaw said.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said the claim that this bill would kill the ethanol industry is “crap.”

A statement from Summit Carbon Solutions, one of the companies seeking to build a carbon capture pipeline in Iowa, said the company has already gotten permission from landowners on nearly 70% of their proposed route. The statement said SCS will continue to meet with policymakers to highlight the role these projects will play in the long-term viability of ethanol and agriculture.

As of Wednesday evening, it still wasn’t clear if the Senate and Gov. Kim Reynolds would support the bill. On Tuesday, Reynolds said she had not discussed it with House Republican leaders.

Copyright 2023 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Katarina Sostaric is an Iowa City based reporter covering Eastern Iowa for Iowa Public Radio.