Bruce Rastetter seeks to parlay campaign cash into carbon pipelines

Emma Schmit is senior Iowa organizer with Food & Water Action.

The Republican Party of Iowa is the party of Bruce Rastetter. For years, he has amassed an enormous fortune at the public’s expense both here and abroad. And for years, he has invested in Iowa GOP candidates, in order to advance his own interests. After Governor Terry Branstad appointed him to the Iowa Board of Regents, he used that position to promote a business venture that could have displaced more than 162,000 refugee farmers in Tanzania, and to lean on a professor who discussed the ethanol industry’s impact on groundwater sources.

Rastetter knows how to call in favors. And he’s not done yet.

Rastetter has gained influence by donating generously to legislators in Des Moines and Washington, DC. Over the past 24 years, Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and Federal Election Commission records show he has made more than $2.6 million in political contributions, with nearly $1.7 million going to Iowa politicians and $944,000 to federal candidates or political committees.

Governor Kim Reynolds is a key beneficiary. Since 2015, Bruce Rastetter has donated $163,902 to Kim Reynolds for Iowa alone. In return, it can be assumed that the governor’s door is always open for Rastetter to advance his personal interests.

His latest venture, Summit Carbon Solutions, is behind the proposal to build the world’s largest carbon dioxide pipeline straight across Iowa. Shortly after Summit Carbon Solutions unveiled the project, Governor Reynolds created a Carbon Sequestration Task Force, which she promptly filled with industry insiders. Representatives of organizations that have long worked to reduce carbon emissions were excluded.

The Summit pipeline would cross 2,000 miles of the Midwest, including nearly 710 miles of our state. It would cross 30 of our 99 counties, and pass through thousands of Iowans’ private property. 

To say this project hasn’t gone Rastetter’s way is putting it mildly.

Iowans across the political spectrum are united against this hazardous carbon pipeline, and the two others like it that have also been proposed. Carbon capture and storage is a false solution to our climate crisis; it has failed everywhere it’s been tried at scale, despite billions of federal dollars being poured into the industry. Rastetter’s proposal to use this flawed technology on ethanol plants at the scale of the Summit project is ludicrous, threatening to entrench both fossil fuels and industrial agriculture, keeping polluting ethanol facilities and the monoculture farms that supply them alive for decades to come.

What’s more, carbon pipelines are dangerous. In 2020, a pipeline rupture in Mississippi gassed an entire town and sent 49 people to the hospital, straddling many with lifelong negative health issues. Plus, threats of eminent domain takings have landowners up in arms over this project’s effects on property rights, land value, and farmland viability.

Iowans are making our opposition clear. So far, 868 public comments have been filed in the Iowa Utilities Board docket for the Summit proposal — 98.9 percent of which are opposed. What’s more, as of February 22, Rastetter’s pipeline had only logged 40 voluntary easements, amounting to less than 2 percent of their proposed route. There are candidates now running for the state legislature on a platform of opposition to the carbon pipelines as Republicans, Democrats, and No Party.

Now, as Reynolds wraps up her latest stint on the campaign trail, she’ll return to Des Moines, where legislation that would stall Rastetter’s carbon pipeline ambitions is pending. The Iowa House State Government committee amended a bill last week with language that would prohibit the use of eminent domain for these pipelines for the next twelve months.

Rastetter has been buying influence for years, but few of his projects have drawn grassroots, bipartisan opposition like these carbon pipelines have. With the decision on whether to permit Iowa’s carbon pipelines falling to the Iowa Utilities Board (whose three members were appointed by Reynolds and her predecessor Branstad), the public will need to remain vigilant in holding the governor accountable to the people she represents — not profiteers like Rastetter who fund her political ambitions.

Top photo of Bruce Rastetter giving an interview to Iowa Public Television in 2018 first published on Summit Agricultural Group’s Facebook page.

About the Author(s)

Emma Schmit

  • eminent domain for profit

    I agree, Emma. This project smells much more like profiteering than like any defense of our climate. If the pipeline can’t pay its own way, it should not be built over the objections of a skeptical public.

  • Good essay that makes good points...

    …so it seems ironic that federal tax credits are helping the carbon pipeline projects, which essentially seems to mean, in part, that Biden is helping Rastetter.