Iowa House passed carbon pipelines bill: What’s in, what’s out, what’s next

Jennifer Winn is an Iowa Organizing Associate with the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. She is based in Sioux County, Iowa.

On March 22, the Iowa House approved legislation to restrict carbon pipelines by a 73-20 bipartisan vote. Though substantially watered down through a last-minute amendment, House File 565 would restrict the use of eminent domain for the hazardous carbon pipelines threatening Iowa.

Unlike many divisive policies passed through the peoples’ chamber this year, the fight against the proposed carbon pipelines has united Iowans from across the state. Polling released last week confirmed, for the second year in a row, that a majority of Iowans don't want land to be seized for carbon pipelines. The latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found that 78 percent of Iowans oppose eminent domain for carbon pipelines. According to polling commissioned by Food & Water Action, 80 percent of voters favorable to Governor Kim Reynolds oppose eminent domain for the carbon pipelines.

Carbon pipelines are unsafe, unwanted and unnecessary. With Iowa Utilities Board hearings on the Summit carbon pipeline project scheduled to begin in October, the 2023 legislative session is make or break for the carbon pipeline threat. All eyes turn now to Iowa Senate leadership and Governor Reynolds to protect Iowans from these dangerous scams. Senators must strengthen and pass House File 565.

We expect our elected leaders in the Senate to act expediently on this legislation, and to fight for everyday Iowans, not multi-billion dollar corporations.

Here’s what’s in, what’s out and what’s next for legislation to restrict carbon pipelines:

Eminent Domain? In: As it heads to the Senate, House File 565 prevents eminent domain until carbon pipeline companies obtain voluntary easements (or use existing ones) on 90 percent of the miles on the proposed pipeline route.

In addition, the bill includes provisions for a study committee on eminent domain, as well as updates to language regarding future damage claims. Under this law, however, 10 percent of impacted landowners could still be forced to give up their land for a hazardous carbon pipeline.

Local Control? Out: For well over a year, Iowa’s local governments have been passing resolutions, submitting objections, and passing ordinances to restrict carbon pipelines through their communities. To date, 45 of 56 affected counties and 22 towns have submitted objections to carbon pipelines to the Iowa Utilities Board. The amendment State Representative Steven Holt offered during last week's House debate stripped a provision from House File 565 that would have required carbon pipelines adhere to these local laws.

Safety? Out: Also removed was a key safety provision that would have placed a moratorium on carbon pipeline construction until the federal Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finishes updating safety regulations for carbon pipelines.

As it stands, there are no federal safety regulations to protect people from hazardous carbon pipelines. The rules are under PHMSA review after a 2020 rupture in Mississippi sent 50 people to the hospital, leaving many with long-term health effects.

Carbon pipelines are particularly hazardous. If a pipeline were to rupture, the carbon dioxide could unzip the pipeline for miles, creating an invisible oxygen-deprivation plume capable of asphyxiating people in a matter of minutes. A rupture would also starve gas-powered emergency vehicles of the oxygen needed to start, putting emergency vehicles out of commission and making hospital access near impossible. Other health risks include long-term brain injury and respiratory issues. 

What’s Next: The Senate and Reynolds must strengthen and pass House File 565 to keep Iowans safe from the private corporations clambering to profit off our land, livelihoods, lives, and tax dollars. That means adding language back in to ensure local control and protect Iowans’ safety.

Eligible for billions in federal funding out of your and my pocket, the least these profiteers could do is follow the local laws passed to keep us safe. What’s more, a moratorium on pipeline permitting until PHMSA safety rules are finalized is a common-sense safety measure.

Iowans don’t want carbon pipelines. Senate leadership and the governor must strengthen and pass House File 565 to restrict these hazardous scams.

Editor's note from Laura Belin: To remain alive this legislative session, the eminent domain bill needs to gain approval in an Iowa Senate committee prior to March 31. As of March 27, the bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, but no subcommittee hearing has been scheduled.

Top photo by John Aspray of Food & Water Watch, published with permission.

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