Democrats blew a chance to connect with rural Iowa

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

Sierra Club has been opposed to the carbon dioxide pipelines that several corporations are trying to build across Iowa since the projects were first announced. The pipeline companies claim the capturing of carbon dioxide from ethanol plants will address climate change, save the ethanol industry, and provide economic benefits. There is no merit to any of these claims.

One thing we learned from the Dakota Access pipeline fight several years ago is that the crucial strategy to oppose the pipelines is to organize the impacted landowners into a unified opposition. Through the fantastic work of Sierra Club’s Conservation Program Coordinator, Jessica Mazour, the landowners have created a groundswell of opposition. Their efforts helped persuade Republican legislators to introduce bills that would restrict or prohibit the use of eminent domain for the pipelines.

State Representative Steven Holt introduced one of those bills. Initially numbered House File 368, it was renumbered House File 565 following approval by the House Judiciary Committee.

Holt’s bill would prevent the use of eminent domain unless the pipeline company obtains voluntary easements for 90 percent of the pipeline route. It also would prohibit the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) from issuing a pipeline permit until permits are issued in the other states through which the pipeline crosses, and would place a moratorium on the IUB issuing a permit until the federal pipeline safety agency issues new regulations. Finally, it would stipulate that any IUB permit must require the pipeline to comply with any local ordinances.

This is not a perfect bill, but it would effectively protect the landowners. And it had more than 20 Republican co-sponsors, including House Speaker Pat Grassley.

When House Judiciary Committee members approved the bill on February 28, only two Republicans (Jon Dunwell and Brian Lohse) voted no. Eleven Republicans supported the bill: Holt, Bobby Kaufmann, Skyler Wheeler, Charley Thomson, Phil Thompson, Henry Stone, Stan Gustafson, Bill Gustoff, Taylor Collins, Ann Meyer, and Carter Nordman.

Meanwhile, only one Democrat on the panel, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, voted yes. All of the other Democrats—Ross Wilburn, Rick Olson, Sami Scheetz, Brian Meyer, and Lindsay James—opposed the bill.

Two Judiciary Committee members (Democrat Megan Srinivas and Republican Megan Jones) abstained because of a conflict of interest.

Although Holt’s legislation passed out of committee, it is disappointing most Democrats did not support it.

What is most disappointing is that the landowners who have worked hard to protect their rights and impact the legislative process are mostly rural voters, who question whether Democrats are on their side. It is clear that Democrats need to connect with rural voters in order to win elections in Iowa. Winning a few more seats in urban areas will not give the party control of the legislature.

The committee votes on Holt’s bill will only reinforce the myth that Democrats don’t care about rural voters. The landowners, most of whom are Republicans, want champions who will support them. And they don’t care if those champions are Republicans or Democrats.

Democratic lawmakers should also consider a recent Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom, which found that 78 percent of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for carbon-capture pipeline. This opposition to eminent domain crosses every demographic group – political party, gender, age, religion, income, rural and urban. Important to Democratic legislators, 82 percent of self-identified Democrats oppose eminent domain for these projects.

This is also an opportunity for Democrats to reach across the aisle and support legislation that is good policy.

I hope that when House File 565 comes to the floor, Democrats will reassess what is in their best interests and vote for the bill.

Top photo of Iowans observing the House Judiciary Committee meeting of February 28 provided by Sierra Club and published with permission.

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  • What the heck???

    I would greatly appreciate an objective political analysis of the reason(s) this happened. I have my suspicions, but I hope they are wrong.

    Thank you, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell.

  • Agree 100% - Vote YES HF565

    Agree with everything shared in this well-written article. The lives and land rights of rural Iowans (and eventually, ALL Iowans) will be on the chopping block if legislators fail to support HF565 and ensure it’s passage.

    We’ll be tracking who votes for our rights & safety, and who votes for wasteful tax spending to appease corporate donors and/or pressure from Labor folks. The scoreboard on HF565 will be on full display to showcase those who support Iowans – and those who seek to serve corporate donors and special interests.

    Our lives are worth more than political points w/big $$ donors, or weak promises by pipeline corporations to bring half of the anticipated temporary pipeline jobs to this state.

    To Iowa Dem legislators, If neither of these factors influence your decision on this bill, then please share with those of us in the path of these hazardous pipeline projects – what exactly are you prioritizing over the lives of my family, my community, and all those that will be impacted should these greenwashed boondoggle projects be approved? Would love to hear SOMETHING from Iowa Dems on this issue – awfully quiet on on an issue that is outlined in our state party platform 3 separate times, and was passed without opposition from a single Iowa Dem. YOUR BASE.

    Vote YES on HF565 to show rural Iowans you actually seek to earn their votes & support in future elections. No Eminent Domain for Corporate/Private Gain!

    • Thank you...

      …for indirectly confirming that my suspicions are valid. Being an Iowan these days means facing unpleasant realities.

  • So frustrating

    Agree completely. All I can surmise is that most of these Democrats are a) more fearful of the agribusiness/pipeline interests than are many of their fellow Republican legislators, b) scared to death of risking the wrath of former Governor Tom Vilsack (whose son Jess works for Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Carbon Solutions), c) scared to death of risking the wrath of President Joe Biden and a host of U.S. House and Senate Democrats who, along with most of their fellow Republican Congresspeople favor an even larger and easier-to-qualify-for version of the Section 45Q tax credits that represent billions of dollars of profit potential for “carbon capture” projects like Rastetter’s, despite the lack of any guarantee that the “captured” carbon is likely to REMAIN “captured” or NOT be used in EOR (enhanced oil recovery) projects that extract hard-to-get-at oil from partially-depleted oil fields, or d) some combination of these. Some of us Democratic pipeline-affected landowners MIGHT back these pipelines iF there was clear evidence that climate change mitigation would actually result, but the opposite seems to be the case. Meanwhile, the wimp factor present in many Iowa House Democrats is jaw-droppingly evident. No wonder the party is in such a woeful condition; other than the few like Rep. Wessel-Kroeschell, thoughtful leaders in this arena are completely absent.

  • If Satan established a wealthy corporation in Iowa called Fiery Economic Growth (FEG)...

    …and if FEG proposed building a large, long pipeline between Iowa and Hell to enable the faster and easier conveyance of damned souls to the nether regions, would that project get support in Iowa, or at least quiet acquiescence, and if so, would some part of that support come from certain labor groups and Democratic legislators?   Sorry, I know that is unfair. And yet I am starting to wonder just a little bit. 

    Stipulated that Satan would request about eight hundred miles of eminent domain for the pipeline segments that would transport the souls from several regional collection centers and that Satan would solemnly promise hundreds of temporary pipeline-construction jobs and about 1,200 permanent full-time jobs doing soul-processing.  And he would also swear up, down, and sideways that sending the souls through the pipeline would reduce global warming.

  • No farms should be subject to eminent domain by corporations

    Rep. Lindsay James explained that Democrats did not support Holt’s bill because it still left 10% of farmers vulnerable to eminent domain and Democrats stand on the principle that absolutely no farmers should be subject to eminent domain by private corporations.

    • Can't buy it

      So Rep. James would rather have all the landowners be subject to eminent domain? I agree that a total ban on eminent domain would be better, but we won’t get that in the current legislature. But HF565 will effectively protect the landowners. The Democrats’ excuse doesn’t pass the smell test.