Sep 21, 2021 - News

Conflict of interest? Critics question $4.5B Iowa pipeline proposal

A map showing the locations of more than 30 ethanol plants where carbon dioxide would be captured.
Carbon dioxide would be captured from more than 30 ethanol plan facilities via a pipeline across five Midwest states. Screen grab from Summit Carbon Solutions informational video

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is at the center of critics' concerns about a proposed $4.5 billion pipeline project to capture carbon emissions across the state.

  • Opponents of the pipeline are raising questions at recent public meetings about Branstad's advisory role in the project, and whether his appointees to the board tasked with approving it have a conflict of interest, the Des Moines Register reports.

Why it matters: The Midwest Carbon Express project would cross 30 Iowa counties and be classified as a hazardous liquid pipeline.

  • Branstad appointed two of the three members on the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), which can approve eminent domain powers to force unwilling landowners to sell easements.

The big picture: Summit Carbon Solutions, the Ames company behind the project, isn't alone in proposing to build hundreds of miles of pipeline to capture carbon at ethanol refineries across the Midwest. Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures is trying to advance a similar proposal.

  • Under Summit's plans, CO2 captured at the plants would be buried underground in North Dakota.
  • Recent increases in federal tax incentives prompted a rush for pipeline plans intended to help reduce harmful environmental emissions, the AP reports.

Between the lines: Summit Carbon Solutions hired Branstad in March as a senior policy advisor on the project.

  • Summit Carbon's parent company is owned by Bruce Rastetter, who Branstad appointed to the Iowa Board of Regents in 2011. Rastetter has remained a longtime political ally of the former governor's.

What they're saying: Ames farmer Lee Tesdell raised questions about a possible conflict of interest at a public meeting last week, saying Branstad should resign or the two IUB members should recuse themselves.

  • The board said in an emailed statement to the Register that it'll decide whether there's a possible conflict of interest "at the appropriate time."

What's next: The IUB will continue to notify landowners of Summit Carbon's proposal at public meetings scheduled through Oct. 15.

  • Summit can apply for a new pipeline permit at least 30 days after the meetings have concluded.
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