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.
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.