More lawsuits challenge eminent domain for Bakken pipeline

Owners of two farms in Cherokee County filed lawsuits on May 20 seeking to block the Texas-based oil company Energy Transfer Partners from seizing their land for the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline, William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register. I enclose excerpts from his story below.

Like a separate lawsuit filed in Polk County last month, these legal claims are based on a 2006 Iowa law, which was designed to protect farmland from being condemned for private development. The plaintiffs argue the Iowa Utilities Board erred when it authorized a private company that is not a utility to use eminent domain.

Regardless of how district courts decide these claims, the Iowa Supreme Court will likely be the final voice on whether state law allows the use of eminent domain for this project.

Dakota Access started Bakken pipeline construction in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois this week, but the Iowa Utilities Board denied the company’s request to start building here. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa that the board’s legal counsel noted the oil company "has not filed all the necessary permits and associated verifications to begin construction." Although the board approved the permit to build the Bakken pipeline in March, as did the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet approved permits for portions of the pipeline that would cross federal land.

Brian Morelli and Rod Boshart reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on the Private Property Rights Coalition’s work to educate landowners along the pipeline route about the eminent domain process and "legal options if they refuse to voluntarily sign easement agreements with the oil company." One of that group’s leaders is Keith Puntenney, who has not signed an easement for his farmland in Boone and Webster counties. Puntenney is also the Democratic challenger to State Senator Jerry Behn in Iowa Senate district 24.

More resources for landowners and citizens who oppose the pipeline project are available on the website of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, uniting more than two dozen Iowa non-profit organizations. I expect Bakken opponents to make their presence known when U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota comes to Des Moines as the featured guest for the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame event next month.

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Landowners challenge use of eminent domain for Bakken pipeline

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

The Iowa Utilities Board issued a permit for the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline on April 8, after declaring that Dakota Access LLC "has substantially complied with the requirements" of the board’s March 10 order. The same day, a group of agricultural landowners filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s use of eminent domain for the pipeline, intended to carry oil roughly 400 miles across eighteen counties from northwest to southeast Iowa. Litigation grounded in environmental concerns about the pipeline is expected later this year.

Follow me after the jump for more details on the land use lawsuit and ongoing efforts to block the pipeline at the federal level.

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Market forces may kill Bakken pipeline despite likely Iowa Utilities Board approval

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

UPDATE: As expected, the board voted unanimously to approve the permit. Scroll to the end of this post for more details and reaction.

The Iowa Utilities Board will meet this afternoon to issue a decision on the proposed Dakota Access pipeline. Everyone I know in the environmental community expects the three board members to approve the permit for this project, better known as the Bakken pipeline. Litigation is sure to follow, as opponents charge the Iowa Utilities Board’s eminent domain powers may be used only in the service of a "public good," not "to privilege a private corporation."

Other legal hurdles include the need for a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, because the pipeline route would cross "four areas in Iowa that have been identified as sovereign lands." The Sierra Club Iowa chapter has been pushing for a thorough Environmental Impact Study and archaeological review. (Too many Iowa politicians from both parties signed a letter to the utilities board opposing an independent environmental impact assessment.)

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has long cast doubt on the "bloated" economic impact numbers Dakota Access has used to market the project. Click here for Swenson’s detailed analysis on the pipeline’s "purported economic and fiscal benefits to the state of Iowa."

A growing number of observers believe the project no longer makes economic sense even for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

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16 Iowa politics predictions for 2016

Hoping to improve on my percentages from last year, I offer sixteen Iowa politics predictions for 2016. Please spin your own scenarios in this thread.

I finally gave up on trying to predict whether Governor Terry Branstad will still be in office at the end of the year. Although his close adviser David Roederer "emphatically" says Branstad will serve out his sixth term, I am convinced the governor will resign early. But I can’t decide whether that will happen shortly after the November 2016 election or shortly after the Iowa legislature’s 2017 session.

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The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2015

As I mentioned on Tuesday, writing is a labor of love for me. Some posts are much more labor-intensive than others.

All of the pieces linked below took at least a couple of days to put together. Some were in progress for weeks before I was ready to hit the publish button. (No editor, deadlines, or word limits can be a dangerous combination.) A few of the particularly time-consuming posts required additional research or interviews. More often, the challenge was figuring out the best way to present the material.

Several pieces that would have qualified for this list are not included, because they are still unfinished. Assuming I can get those posts where they need to be, I plan to publish them during the first quarter of 2016.

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The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts that were most fun to write in 2015

While working on another piece about Iowa politics highlights from the year, I decided to start a new Bleeding Heartland tradition. Writing is a labor of love for me, as for many bloggers, but let’s face it: not all posts are equally lovable.

The most important political events can be frustrating or maddening to write up, especially when there is so much ground to cover.

Any blogger will confirm that posts attracting the most readers are not necessarily the author’s favorites. The highest-traffic Bleeding Heartland post of 2015—in fact, the highest-traffic post in this blog’s history—was just another detailed account of a message-testing opinion poll, like many that came before. Word to the wise: if you want a link from the Drudge Report, it helps to type up a bunch of negative statements about Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes, committing to a topic leads to a long, hard slog. I spent more time on this critique of political coverage at the Des Moines Register than on any other piece of writing I’ve done in the last decade. But honestly, the task was more depressing than enjoyable.

Other pieces were pure pleasure. Follow me after the jump for my top fifteen from 2015.

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