Jan 19, 2022 - News

Iowa's carbon pipeline race meets growing opposition

Illustration of two hands passing off a pipe instead of a baton in a relay race.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Resistance is growing to proposals for multi-billion-dollar networks of underground pipelines that would cross Iowa and capture carbon dioxide from ethanol or fertilizer plants.

Why it matters: While the proposals claim the projects would greatly reduce greenhouse emissions, they're raising controversy among environmentalists and community leaders.

  • Groups like the Sierra Club claim the Iowa proposals are “false climate solutions” that “take us farther away from climate goals.”
  • And others argue the projects don’t benefit their communities.

What's happening: At least four counties have announced opposition to the use of eminent domain to seize property for the proposed pipeline projects.

  • Meanwhile, a "pro-landowner" Republican lawmaker is drafting legislation to limit when the companies could use eminent domain.

State of play: Last week, Wolf Carbon Solutions became the third company to announce an Iowa pipeline proposal. It would connect facilities in Cedar Rapids and Clinton to a sequestration site in Decatur, Illinois.

Context: In 2018, Congress expanded a federal tax credit to incentivize investments in carbon capture.

  • President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill has proposed billions of dollars to expand the credit even further, though talks over the plan have recently stalled.

What they're saying: Eminent domain should be limited to projects that serve the entire public rather than to the exclusive benefit of private companies, Linn County supervisors said in a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) last week.

  • Long-term land value losses are also a worry, the supervisors said.
  • Ethanol plants and the pipelines could soon become obsolete as electric vehicles replace gasoline engines, a former member of the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission recently warned in a Des Moines Register op-ed.

The other side: Gasoline or flex-fuel vehicles are projected to retain the majority of the market through at least 2050, Navigator spokesperson Elizabeth Burns-Thompson told Axios last week, citing a 2021 projection from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

  • Landowners will be fully compensated for easements and all future expenses. That includes a 240% reimbursement for yield losses, said Burns-Thompson, who's also an Altoona City Council member.

What's next: The IUB is holding a virtual information meeting about Navigator's project tonight at 6pm. Registration is required.

  • The project has months of permitting and negotiations ahead, but construction could potentially begin in early 2024.
A map of a proposed pipeline project in Iowa.
Navigator CO2 Ventures' pipeline would cross 36 of Iowa's 99 counties, including Polk. Map courtesy of Navigator CO2 Ventures
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