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Iowa Utilities Board approves permit for controversial Summit carbon pipeline, including through Floyd County

Iowa Utilities Board approves permit for controversial Summit carbon pipeline, including through Floyd County
Summit Carbon Solutions proposes to partner with 57 ethanol plants across Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska to capture carbon dioxide, compress the captured CO2, and channel it to North Dakota where it will be permanently stored underground in deep geologic storage locations. Submitted graphic
By Clark Kauffman, Iowa Capital Dispatch
And by By Bob Steenson,

The Iowa Utilities Board gave its approval Tuesday for the controversial Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline and for the company to use eminent domain to acquire landowners’ property, ruling the project meets the requirement of being “in the public convenience and necessity.”

Although the board approved the permit application, it will not actually issue the permit until several requirements have been met by Summit and other states.

The company hopes to begin construction next year with the goal of making the pipeline operational in 2026. The pipeline, which would be the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, would carry liquified carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in Iowa and surrounding states to a site in North Dakota, where the company hopes for reconsideration and approval of a previously denied permit.

The pipeline would cross more than 2,000 miles across five states, including nearly 700 miles in Iowa. In planning the pipeline, Summit has partnered with 57 ethanol plants and the company says it has signed voluntary easement agreements with 75% of the Iowa route’s landowners.

The proposed pipeline would cross Floyd County from east to west, including going through part of Charles City including the Avenue of the Saints Development Park. Additional permit requests with the IUB that have yet to be considered would add lateral lines north into Minnesota and south to the Valero Renewables plant between Floyd and Charles City.

In giving its approval to the project, the Iowa Utilities Board ruled that Summit cannot begin construction in Iowa until the necessary permits are secured in South Dakota and North Dakota.

The board stated Summit will be able to use eminent domain in Iowa to force the sale of easements for land from property owners who are opposed to the use of their property for the project, or who have not reached agreements with Summit for voluntary easements.

But the board also ordered that property owners whose property would be taken by eminent domain be given the opportunity to still agree to a voluntary easement at the highest offer that Summit had made during negotiations, at least until the time when county compensation boards have met to determine the amount of compensation that would be paid under an eminent domain taking.

After the decision was announced, Rep. Charley Thomson, R-Charles City, released a statement on behalf of himself and 30 other Iowa legislators.

“Today is a dark day for anyone who owns property in Iowa. Indeed, it’s a dark day for our Constitution and potentially for the Iowa way of life. We could not be more disappointed that the Iowa Utilities Board, despite overwhelming compelling evidence to the contrary, found that the Summit carbon dioxide pipeline scheme is somehow in the ‘public interest and necessity.’ We disagree strongly with the IUB’s conclusion, and we will continue to oppose this proposal at every step,” the statement said.

“We are carefully reviewing today’s decision in light of the docket, Iowa statutes, and the state and Federal Constitutions to develop the next steps in the courts and in the General Assembly in response to today’s developments. Iowans can be assured this is not the final word on this issue,” Thomson’s statement said.

It was signed by Thomson along with Sen. Kevin Alons, Sen. Jeff Taylor, Sen. Dennis Guth, Sen. David Rowley, Sen. Sandy Salmon, Sen. Cherielynn Westrich, Sen. Lynn Evans, Rep. Steven Bradley, Rep. Ken Carlson, Rep. Mark Cisneros, Rep. Zach Dieken, Rep. Dean Fisher, Rep. Thomas Gerhold, Rep. Cindy Golding, Rep. Helena Hayes, Rep. Steven Holt, Rep. Thomas Jeneary, Rep. Bradley Sherman, Rep. Jeff Shipley, Rep. Luana Stoltenberg, Rep. Mark Thompson, Rep. Anne Osmundson, Rep. Brooke Boden, Rep. Henry Stone, Rep. Heather Hora, Rep. Skyler Wheeler, Rep. Eddie Andrews, Rep. Dan Gehlbach, Rep. Bob Henderson, and Rep. Bobby Kaufman.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said the rights of Iowa landowners are the one of the “highest priorities” of House Republicans.

“This just further confirms what we already knew — that the Iowa Legislature must conduct a comprehensive review and update the state’s eminent domain laws,” Grassley said. “We will seek feedback from Iowans on the best way forward and in the meantime, I stand ready to assist my constituents however I can.”

The Iowa House approved legislation the past two sessions that would have given landowners more leverage over pipeline negotiations.

In 2023, the House passed a bill requiring pipeline companies to obtain voluntary easements for 90% of their routes before they could use eminent domain for the rest. This year, the House voted to allow landowners who are subject to eminent domain requests by carbon dioxide pipeline companies to challenge the legitimacy of those requests in court earlier in the permit proceedings. Neither bill advanced in the Senate.

The proposed pipeline has been the focus of intense public debate over the past 30 months, with farmers, environmentalists and pipeline safety advocates voicing their opposition. In August 2023, Summit was denied permits in North Dakota, and one month later it was denied permits in South Dakota.

In response to the board’s action, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Jim Walsh blamed Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for a decision that he said will benefit corporations at the expense of Iowa’s rural communities.

“Summit’s carbon pipeline scam is nothing but a gift to Big Ag and the polluting ethanol industry,” Walsh said. “The pipeline poses substantial risks to public safety and will do little to nothing to reduce climate pollution.

“Gov. Reynolds’s administration is at the center of this decision, and the whole project is made possible by massive federal tax credits and subsidies for the dangerous and unnecessary carbon capture industry. While Summit stands to make billions, it is our climate and communities that lose out,” Walsh said.

Summit: Approval a ‘significant milestone’

In a written statement, Summit called the Iowa Utilities Board’s approval “a significant milestone not for just Summit Carbon Solutions, but for the entire agriculture industry as it seeks access to new and emerging markets, like sustainable aviation fuel, by lowering ethanol’s carbon intensity score.”

Lee Blank, CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions, predicted the project’s “momentum” will continue as the company pursues permit reconsideration in North Dakota and prepares to file a new South Dakota permit application in early July.

“We look forward to engaging with the state throughout this process and are confident in a successful outcome,” Blank said of the South Dakota effort.

Food & Water Watch Policy Director Walsh said that while Summit “has won this round in Iowa, this is not the end of the line. There are still decisions at the federal and state levels that will determine whether this dangerous pipeline is ever built.

“The IUB’s approval of this dangerous project underscores the urgent need for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to update the outdated regulations for carbon dioxide pipelines before any other authorizations are issued,” Walsh said.

Jess Mazour, of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, said, “Today the IUB ruled against Iowans, landowners, our environment and our communities. IUB ignored critical arguments and sided with Summit in nearly every instance.

“This is far from over,” Mazour said. “We will appeal this decision and make our arguments in front of a fair decision maker.”

In the two and half years since the Iowa Utilities Board first began weighing Summit’s permit application, the board has filed tens of thousands of pages of testimony and exhibits, heard testimony from more than 200 witnesses, and considered 4,180 comments, objections and letters of support for the project.

Utilities board members issue dissents

As part of the board’s approval on Tuesday, Iowa Utilities Board Chairman Erik Helland issued a partial dissent in which he agreed with all of the findings and conclusions except for the condition that prohibits construction in Iowa until North Dakota and South Dakota have given their approval.

Helland said such a condition essentially gives away the board’s authority to another jurisdiction.

Board member Joshua Byrnes also issued a partial dissent, taking issue with the approval of a lateral route between the Quad County Corn Processors facility in Ida County and the Green Plains Shenandoah facility in Fremont County. Byrnes argued that portion of the route was not justified because it affected too many properties, including 118 eminent domain properties, to benefit one ethanol facility.

Before the board gives its separate approval for construction permits, Summit will have to submit what the board called “numerous revised exhibits” on route changes ordered by the board.

Summit had argued that the IUB did not have the authority to require route changes, but the IUB decision says, “Summit Carbon cannot argue the Board’s authority for siting usurps a county’s, but then argue the Board cannot modify the route. Summit Carbon cannot have its cake and eat it, too. While the number of modifications made at this stage may be more limited, nonetheless, the Board can still order the modifications.”

The board ordered several route changes that had been proposed by property owners or others, but also denied many more route changes that had been requested, especially when the property owners had not offered alternate routes or had failed to follow up their testimony.

The board ruled it generally would not order Summit to move the pipeline from one owner’s property to another owner’s, even if that other owner was willing.

Additional requirements ordered by the IUB

The IUB ordered that as part of receiving construction permits for the project it will need to meet these and other additional requirements:

• The company will have to secure and maintain a $100 million insurance policy, and it will be required to compensate landowners for any damages that result from the pipeline’s construction.

• Summit shall include the same indemnification language in all eminent domain takings that it has in voluntary easements.

• Summit will be required to list the actual size of pipeline proposed to be placed in eminent domain takings, rather than the “up to 24-inches” language proposed.

• Summit will work with eminent domain landowners to assure they have access to all their land while construction is taking place.

• Summit will be required to X-ray 100% of the welds used to construct the pipeline.

• Summit will be required to use thicker-walled pipe and fracture arrestors where appropriate.

• Summit shall purchase and provide a carbon dioxide monitor to every emergency manager truck, fire truck, law enforcement vehicle, and ambulance in the communities crossed by the pipeline

• Summit will provide grants to cities and counties to provide the necessary equipment to respond to an incident.

• Summit will work with each county crossed by its hazardous liquid pipeline to provide a real-time alarm notification system.

Click here for the entire 507-page IUB ruling.

 Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and X.

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