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Local Iowa officials consider blocking carbon capture facilities to thwart pipeline projects

Local Iowa officials consider blocking carbon capture facilities to thwart pipeline projects
Iowa city and county officials have jurisdiction over building permits for carbon capture facilities near ethanol plants. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
By Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Iowa cities and counties have the authority to restrict building permits for the carbon capture facilities that would feed proposed carbon dioxide pipelines in the state, the Hardin County attorney argues in a recent state regulatory filing.

That has the potential to empower local elected officials to restrict or block the controversial pipeline projects by depriving them of their sources of the greenhouse gas. Some counties that are wary of the projects have sought to limit where the pipelines can be built, which a federal judge rebuffed.

Summit Carbon Solutions seeks to build a five-state pipeline system that would transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants — 13 of which are in Iowa — to North Dakota for underground sequestration.

The company would install and operate equipment at each of those facilities to capture, process and compress the gas into a supercritical fluid to inject into the pipeline system.

Summit’s permit was recently denied in South Dakota because it didn’t comply with ordinances that several counties adopted in response to pipeline proposals. That state allows the ordinances, but state regulators can overrule them.

Several Iowa counties have tried to restrict pipeline routes, but the first to be tried in court was unsuccessful. A federal judge said in July that a new Shelby County ordinance that dictates how close a pipeline can be to cities, homes and other facilities overstepped the county’s authority.

But counties and cities have jurisdiction over building permits.

Hardin County Attorney Darrell Meyer on Thursday asked state regulators to publicly clarify that the capture facilities are not part of the pipeline and are subject to local ordinances and permitting requirements.

“I know not what impact this motion will have, but raising local awareness and transparency are always positive supports of good government,” Meyer told the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The revelation opens a new avenue for pipeline opponents to attempt to block the three projects currently proposed in Iowa, but would likely require a concerted effort by the cities and counties where the ethanol plants are located.

“If they can’t get the capture facilities, Summit’s project is dead,” said Wally Taylor, an attorney for the Sierra Club of Iowa. “It’s clear that counties or cities have the ability to require the capture facility to comply with the local zoning and land use requirements.”

It’s unclear whether that strategy is palatable, even among elected leaders who have decried Summit’s proposal. Supervisors in several counties either declined to comment or did not respond to requests to comment for this article.

Dean Kluss, a Wright County supervisor who has been a frequent critic of Summit’s pipeline permit process, said he is unsure whether he would support blocking building permits for the capture facilities.

Further, the ethanol plant that is part of Summit’s system in his county is within the city limits of Goldfield and would be subject to that town’s requirements, Kluss said. Goldfield Mayor Gabe Fiscus declined to comment for this article.

Summit objection spurred idea

In August, Summit applied for a building permit in Hardin County to construct a capture facility at the Pine Lake Corn Processors ethanol plant near Steamboat Rock.

The county has participated heavily in an ongoing evidentiary hearing for Summit’s hazardous liquid pipeline permit request with the Iowa Utilities Board. Hardin County officials have sought to preserve their permitting authority and other local powers, said Meyer, the county attorney.

To that end, the county submitted the building permit application as evidence during the hearing to show Summit must still seek some permission from counties for its project despite the federal court ruling about siting ordinances.

A Summit attorney objected to the evidence, in part arguing that it is irrelevant to the company’s permit request with the IUB.

“That objection lingered in my mind, causing me to give closer attention to the permitting of and jurisdiction over this capture facility and such facilities in general,” Meyer said. “Safe to say, local authority over the actual CO2 capture facilities appears to have been overlooked until now.”

He said it’s unclear yet whether his county’s supervisors would use that authority to block a capture facility. Hardin is in the path of two carbon dioxide proposals — by Summit and by Navigator CO2 — and some of its landowners have been among the most vocal opponents of the projects.

The county is also the home of Summit Agricultural Group, which spawned Summit Carbon Solutions and its project.

A Summit spokesperson did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

Hearing status

Summit’s permit hearing before the utilities board recently finished its fifth week, which focused on landowners who are subject to eminent domain requests.

The company is seeking forced easements from unwilling landowners for about a quarter of its route in Iowa, which includes more than 900 separate parcels of land. The easements would allow Summit to build and operate its pipeline system on land it doesn’t own.

The board had said it hoped to conclude hearing testimony by the end of next week, but a significant number of landowners have yet to testify.

On Thursday, there was time for just nine of the 20 scheduled witnesses. Next week, more than 50 landowners are scheduled to testify over the course of three days, and the schedule doesn’t include all of the remaining landowners.

The hearing is set to resume at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

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

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