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Expect carbon pipeline debates in 2023 legislative session, Iowa House speaker

By Robin Opsahl

Iowans can expect to see their state legislators discuss changes to carbon pipeline laws in the upcoming legislative session, House Speaker Pat Grassley said in an interview.

Iowa’s future carbon pipelines were a divisive topic on the campaign trail in 2022. Three companies are in the process of working to build more than 2,000 miles of liquid carbon pipelines through Iowa, which would transport captured carbon emissions to other states to be pumped underground.

But much of the planned routes for the pipelines go through Iowa farmland. The pipeline companies are expected to seek permission from the Iowa Utilities Board to use eminent domain in their projects. If granted, property owners could be forced to sell easements to their land at “fair market value” to accommodate the pipelines.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate shot down changes to eminent domain law passed by the House during the 2022 legislative session, killing a bill that proposed blocking the use of eminent domain by private companies building liquid-carbon pipelines and removing language for a temporary moratorium on the use of eminent domain put into a budget bill.

Grassley told the Iowa Capital Dispatch there’s a greater appetite to take action on pipelines this year than in 2022.

“We’re hearing from enough Iowans that we feel we’ve let this process play,” Grassley said. “That’s what I said last year, ‘Let’s let this process play and see what it does.’ And now we’ve had enough of the process play through we’ve heard from enough Iowans that I think you’re going to see something. What that is exactly, I’m not in a position where I can tell you, but I know the caucus is hearing enough from their constituents.”

Republicans expanded their majority in the Iowa House by four seats, as well as gaining a supermajority in the Senate in the midterms. While Iowans and legislators agree that property rights are fundamental, Grassley said, that does not give property owners the ability to shoot down planned pipelines.

The speaker pointed to the Iowa Farm Bureau’s approach to pipelines in their 2022 policy meeting. The IFB recommended setting up a threshold for voluntary easements from landowners before granting a company eminent domain authority, in addition to recommending farmers receive compensation for crop yield reductions because of pipeline easement.

“They didn’t just come in and say no, they came in and had some thoughtful conversations and brought some thoughtful ideas,” he said. “I think that’s the approach you’re going to see the Legislature take.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds weighed in on the issue in an October debate, where she said she supports continuing to allow the Iowa Utilities Board to decide whether landowners have to allow pipelines to cross their property.

“There’s a process in place and I would support the laws that are on the books,” she said.

Democrats told reporters Friday that it was unclear if the Republican majority will take action on pipelines, or even allow debate on the issue. Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls said the Republican leaders blocked floor debate on the subject in 2022 by killing pipeline legislation in the Senate Commerce Committee.

“We had several senators who condemned the use of eminent domain you know, and I think that generally the controversy is over whether eminent domain is being used correctly and if landowners are getting a say and actually what happens on their property,” Wahls said. “Generally speaking, the Democrats stand on the side of … the responsible use of eminent domain. If eminent domain is used, it has to be done responsibly.”

Sen. Jason Schultz, the Commerce Committee chair, did not respond to requests for comment. But in the House, Grassley said discussions in the Republican caucus show an interest in moving away from Iowa’s current system.

“This is a very hot issue in our districts, not just districts that have a pipeline,” Grassley said. “I mean, this is a big deal in every district. So while I can’t sit here and say this is what I think we will do, I am from talking to members, I’m fairly confident there’s going to be a push to do something.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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