It’s official: The Summit Carbon hearing is off the rails

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years. 

If there was any lingering doubt that the fix was in on the Iowa Utilities Board's hearing on Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline, it was quickly extinguished on the morning of September 5, when attorney Brian Jorde filed a Motion for Temporary Stay of Evidentiary Proceedings.

Jorde represents Iowans who own land along the pipeline's path. He and other attorneys representing parties that oppose the pipeline have been subjected to a stealth Iowa Utilities Board hearing schedule that grows increasingly erratic by the day. This approach has rendered the hearing in Fort Dodge a solid contender for Dante’s tenth circle of hell, with the ninth circle, treachery, playing a pivotal role in the descent of the proceedings.

Jorde's motion points out what some observers of the hearing may have wondered about but not pieced together.

At the end of the day on August 31, Iowa Utilities Board chair Erik Helland announced that an additional hearing day had been scheduled for Friday, September 9, potentially allowing Summit witnesses to wrap up their testimony this week. The board likely made this decision weeks ago, but the huddled masses at the back of the hearing room and their beleaguered attorneys found out only when Helland announced it last Thursday.

The opening paragraphs of the motion explain the dilemma:

Jorde Landowners’ counsel previously and repeatedly made known to the Board and Board Staff of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission Order of January 11, 2023, in the Summit South Dakota docket of that evidentiary hearing already scheduled for September 11th through 29th in Fort Pierre, South Dakota. See - Well after the August 22, 2023, commencement of the IUB hearing, the Board announced a “Tentative Party Schedule” and posted that to

The motion continues:

This was all done to accommodate Summit so its witness, counsel as needed, and interested persons could then conveniently travel to Fort Pierre, South Dakota for the start of the Summit South Dakota PUC proceedings beginning the morning of September 11, 2023, after completion of either all or the key Summit witness it has identified to testify in Iowa so they could also participate in South Dakota from Monday September 11 through Saturday September 16, 2023.

Notably, the Iowa Utilities Board’s official calendar, as of the morning of September 5, did not reflect any Summit testimony scheduled for the weeks of September 11-15, 18-22, and 25-29. But we are all apparently supposed to stay tuned for another installment of the Board’s weekly digest to see what will happen, and who might testify—or not—in the coming weeks.

It now appears that Summit’s witnesses will testify this week, and then, perhaps, the Iowa hearing will be halted for at least three full weeks while the South Dakota evidentiary hearing takes place.

Why the Iowa Utilities Board would embark upon such a disruptive schedule is baffling.

After watching what has happened over the past few weeks when witnesses answered queries from attorneys for parties opposed to the pipeline, one can guess that if abruptly awakened from a slumber, Helland would blurt out, “Sustained.”

In the opening days of the hearing, Helland repeatedly used the term “rehabilitate” when barring attorneys from asking additional questions of Exhibit H landowners. The term implied that these witnesses had somehow impeached themselves or given contradictory testimony.

Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute defines rehabilitation as “A process used at trial after a witness’s credibility has been attacked through impeachment to rehabilitate the witness’s credibility.” It’s an insult to the landowners, many of whom traveled a long way and incurred expenses to speak truthfully to the board. Further, it smacks of obstruction.  

Glennis Rogers of Sergeant Bluff, who is nearly 100 years old, offered one of the more poignant docket submissions when she wrote to the board on July 26: “My husband Robert has been gone for over 20 years and his last words to me were Take Care of the Farm. This is what I am doing. I am voting NO.” Perhaps the board members would do well to listen to their elders.

Here is her hand-written letter in full. (It was buried within a 40-page compilation of comments that the Iowa Utilities Board published in early August.)

Top image of figure making scales of justice unbalanced is by zendograph and available via Shutterstock.

  • Crazy

    The IUB has always been a nebulous organization with weird ways of doing business. However, this rendition looks completely in the pockets of industry and against average farmers. I'm not naïve enough to not understand there is another side, but no one is bothering to tell that side. Why is that? At present, it looks like a steamrolling action by the fossil fuel industry to piggy back on ethanol for more government grants.

    Fossil fuel companies get $20 billion a year in direct subsidies, and hundreds of billions more in indirect subsidies. Though this action seems incredibly bizarre to those of us on the outside, it seems like a normal day at the office for Summit and other energy companies.

    What's the essential public need of the pipeline that justifies eminent domain? Once the pipeline is finished, there is no public use. Private companies, ethanol and fossil fuel, will use the pipeline to create profit. All risks will be subsumed by the public and private land owners. It seems to fail a quick test of the Iowa law.

    Now, Summit has said that they are not taking a position on climate change. If these pipelines are not to decrease CO2 emissions and become a "carbon capture" sink, there is literally no public benefit from pipelines. That seems just obvious. Am I missing something?

  • It wouldn't be hard...

    to complete answers and questions sets for multiple "Iowa In The New Gilded Age" episodes of Jeopardy.

    Categories arrive like hailstones. The first few I picked up:

    We Don't Need No Education

    "Woke" To A Nightmare

    What's That Smell?

    Working Class Heroes

    Civics For Fascists

    Fakers, Makers, and Takers

    Let Us Pray

  • Outrageous!!!

    I've been following environment-related issues in Iowa for more than forty years, and have seen some infuriating situations. But the last fifteen years or so have topped anything I saw previously, with the pipeline issue being a special jaw-dropper. The Tenth Circle of Hell is an excellent metaphor.

    Sympathies to the landowners and their attorneys who are being so blatantly disrespected. And thank you, Nancy Duggan. Thank you to all the other Iowans who have weighed in on the side of common sense, fairness, and science.

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