Iowa Utilities Board revising Summit Carbon pipeline permit hearing timetable, may consider offering mediators to landowners
By Bob Steenson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Floyd and several other Iowa counties have been approved to intervene in the Iowa Utilities Board’s permit hearings on the Summit Carbon Solutions proposed carbon dioxide pipeline project.
That decision was part of an order the IUB issued on Friday, May 19, also saying it wants to increase landowner participation in the permitting process, and it will hold a status conference next month to discuss options.
A previously announced hearing timetable in October is now apparently on hold.
One of those options could be for the IUB to hire mediators that landowners could use free of charge to aid in the easement negotiation process with the pipeline company.
It would be an effort to reduce the number of contested parcels to try to shorten hearings that could take “six, eight, or ten-plus weeks” and that “would place a burden on everyone involved” and create uncertainty about when particular parts of the project are being considered, the board said.
“The board has consistently heard from landowners, both in person and via submitted comments, that the easement negotiation process is complicated, confusing and stressful,” the IUB said in its order.
Under the proposal, the IUB would hire mediators who would set up free, voluntary mediations between any willing landowner and Summit Carbon to explore a voluntary easement agreement. The state Office of Consumer Advocate could also continue to be involved in the process if it chooses to.
If an easement agreement isn’t reached or if a landowner chooses not to use the voluntary mediation, then the IUB would proceed to the “Exhibit H” process — the term IUB uses for the process where it determines if eminent domain should be used to force an easement.
A spokeswoman for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been a consistent opponent of the carbon capture and transport pipeline proposals, said in a statement that the board should not be involved in negotiations between landowners and Summit Carbon.
“It is not their job to encourage landowners to negotiate with pipeline companies,” said Jess Mazour, the conservation program coordinator for the Iowa chapter. “Iowa law clearly states a landowner does not have to negotiate with a pipeline company seeking eminent domain.”
The Iowa Utilities Board also said in its order, “If it provides for a more efficient process, individual board members or other presiding officers could be assigned to receive the testimony or other evidence to be considered by the full board in reaching a final decision as it relates to the specific landowner parcels, as well as decision on the entirety of the project.
“Such a process can be tailored to the availability of the participants and ensures the schedule is adaptable to the needs of the landowners and other parties,” it said in its order, which was signed by all three board members.
A status conference will be held on Tuesday, June 6, after the IUB’s regular monthly meeting, and again on Monday, July 10, after the regular meeting.
“The Board will use these prehearing status conferences to receive updates from parties, provide additional information about events and logistics for the docket, and to address any issues or concerns that may arise. At least one week prior to each prehearing status conference, any party that plans to participate will be required to file a notice of participation and include suggested topics for discussion.
Summit Carbon’s direct testimony for the permit process is due on May 25, except for Exhibit H testimony involving potential eminent domain parcels.
“By June 26, 2023, board staff will file its petition staff report over all items contained within Summit Carbon’s petition and petition exhibits, excluding Exhibit H,” the order said. “This staff report will also include outstanding deficiencies or areas where board staff believes additional information is needed.”
Summit Carbon’s response to the IUB staff report is due by July 10.
The IUB is also considering establishing satellite locations for the hearings process. State Code requires the hearings to be located in a county seat near the midpoint of the proposed project, but the IUB is considering also setting up locations where people can participate remotely.
Also as part of the order Friday, the IUB issued a list of persons and organizations approved to “intervene in the docket,” which means they will be able to participate in the pipeline permit hearing process.
Approved as interveners are Floyd, Emmet, Dickinson and Crawford counties, ethanol producers LSCP and PLCP, and Iowans for a Growing Agricultural Economy.
Two new members of the three-member Iowa Utilities Board were appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last month — former Republican state Rep. Erik Helland of Johnston, who Reynolds appointed chair, and Sarah Martz, director of engineering for utilities at Iowa State University in Ames.
They join board member Josh Byrnes of Osage, a former Republican legislator and former general manager of Osage Municipal Utilities.
Byrnes said the IUB is seeking a more efficient and less time-consuming process while facilitating greater landowner access through a proceeding that is orderly, open, and fair.
“Landowner access and timing of the hearing has been a concern since the beginning,” Byrnes said. “These added options help alleviate those concerns and can reduce the burden of a multi-week public hearing.”
Byrnes had opposed the initial plan of holding hearings in October, approved by the two previous board members, saying it didn’t allow enough time for IUB staff to prepare and would be during harvest time, when farmers who were affected by the pipeline would have to choose between taking part in the hearings or getting their crops out of the fields.
Summit Carbon filed its petition to construct, operate and maintain a proposed 687 miles of 6- to 24-inch diameter hazardous liquid pipeline to transport liquefied carbon dioxide within the state of Iowa on January 28, 2022, in IUB Docket No. HLP-2021-0001.