CO2 pipelines a bad deal — follow the money, by Ben Jealous

6/13/2024, 6 p.m.
“Isn’t it sad that money controls everything?”

“Isn’t it sad that money controls everything?”

That is what Kim Junker says, as she laments the iron grip wealthy pipeline interests seem to have over some of Iowa’s most powerful lawmakers. What she is referring to is a years-long fight against a massive carbon dioxide (CO2) pipeline project planned to run through the state.

Junker and her husband own farmland in both Grundy and Butler Counties where they grow corn and soybeans.

She describes a “David vs. Goliath” fight.

The irony is that in this case, David – at least in terms of the number of people on that side of the fight – is bigger.

The Iowans fighting the pipelines, and the use of eminent domain to seize people’s land for the projects, are a wide-ranging coalition of farmers and landowners, environmentalists, county supervisors and attorneys, and others. It is a coalition that crosses all party lines. Junker herself identifies as a Republican-raised conservative who is also a conservationist.

The bill that was in front of legislators this year was overwhelmingly popular (as is opposition to the pipeline project).

Written to maximize its chance of passage, it would have protected landowners’ due process rights by allowing them to challenge eminent domain requests in court earlier in the permitting process. Hardly radical stuff.

By comparison in neighboring Illinois, state lawmakers just passed a moratorium on all CO2 pipeline projects for two years or until the federal government issues new safety rules.

The bill in Iowa passed the Republican-majority Iowa House of Representatives in March on a whopping 86-7 vote, with massive bipartisan support. But this year, just like last year, the bill was killed in the state Senate before it could receive a floor vote.

Organizers in Iowa think the bill would have had enough support in the Senate to pass if it got a floor vote. Yet a handful of Senate leaders continue to prevent that… and, in doing so, are conveniently preventing it from getting to the governor’s desk.

You see, Summit Carbon Solutions, the company behind the current pipeline plans, is owned by one of the state’s

largest GOP donors and one of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ biggest benefactors: Bruce Rastetter.

The CO2 pipelines in question are part of a Carbon Capture and Storage project, to help capture carbon emissions from

the many ethanol plants across the states and pipe them out of state for deep underground storage. There are many reasons why CCS pipelines are not a good solution for curbing carbon emissions. Not the least of which is that the pipelines themselves are dangerous.

In 2020, a plume of CO2 from a ruptured nearby pipeline settled over Satarcia, Mississippi. Residents felt the effects

within minutes. More than 200 were evacuated and 45 people were hospitalized. Experts say it was incredibly lucky no one died. Three years later, some residents reported still dealing with residual health issues like severe asthma attacks, headaches, muscle tremors, and trouble concentrating.

The CO2 pipelines also harm the soil and reduce crop yields – a major concern for farmers. And for people like the Junkers, who have worked hard to own and maintain their land, the threat of losing their land is perhaps the worst dagger in the heart.

Junker says if these eminent domain claims to Iowans’ land were for a public good, it might be a different story – “if it was a road or bridge, or something that was a necessity … but it’s not. It’s not for the public good.”

She calls it a “scam.”

“They’re going to use our tax dollars to steal our land from us… they’re getting all these tax credits and subsidies to do this. We pay for that.”

The writer is the executive director of the Sierra Club and a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania.