The Outrageous Conflicts Of Interest Surrounding Iowa’s Carbon Pipelines

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Climate and Energy

by Emma Schmit and Phoebe Galt

Iowa has become a battleground of opposition to hazardous carbon pipelines. Three corporations have proposed nearly 2,000 miles of pipeline within Iowa to transport carbon dioxide from ethanol and fertilizer facilities. These pipelines are part of a bogus scheme known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

For more than a year, Iowans have raised concerns about the pipelines proposed by corporations Summit, Navigator and ADM/Wolf. The projects will not lower emissions nor address the climate crisis.

But they will threaten private property rights through eminent domain and present a dangerously under-regulated public safety concern. 

Another concern? Cash and conflicts of interest. Here are four ways carbon capture corporations have infiltrated Iowa’s politics.

1. Pipeline Execs Donated Hundred of Thousands To Top Elected Officials

Iowa’s leading politicians are indebted to the monied individuals behind these carbon pipeline schemes. Nearly every top Republican in Iowa has cashed checks from Bruce Rastetter, CEO of the group behind the Summit pipeline proposal.

As of August 4, Governor Kim Reynolds had accepted $188,902 of Rastetter’s donations. Meanwhile, Navigator executives have made their own cash contributions. Together, they’ve donated thousands to House Majority Leader Pat Grassley, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Governor Reynolds. And these donations flooded in right before the 2022 legislative session. 

With these numbers, it’s no surprise that last spring, all three worked to kill legislation that would have prevented corporations from using eminent domain for these pipelines. 

2. Corporate Lobbying To Date Outspent A Similar Project Almost 4:1

August lobbying disclosures make clear that pipeline companies have not limited their spending to campaign contributions. They’ve lobbied heavily during the most recent legislative session, too. In 2022, Summit spent $36,000 on lobbying efforts and Texas-based Navigator spent $16,600. Canadian corporation Wolf spent $40,000.

In total, these three corporations spent $92,600 to influence Iowa’s legislature during the last session. That’s almost four times what the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline spent on lobbying for their controversial project.

While leadership conveniently killed legislation on eminent domain, bills promoting carbon capture research and development passed with flying colors.

3. Carbon Corporation Hires Held Previous Power In Pipeline Politics

August lobbying filings revealed that Summit hired the same lobbyists that represent Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, to lobby for their proposed  carbon pipeline in the state legislature.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a hotly contested crude oil pipeline that runs through 18 counties in Iowa. The pipeline, which claimed eminent domain for its construction in 2016, has lowered crop yields and property values for landowners. 

What’s more, Iowa’s proposed pipelines present another shocking example of revolving doors between government and private industry. Several high-level Summit representatives recently served in Iowa’s state government.

Jake Ketzner, Summit’s Vice President of Governmental and Public Affairs, was previously Governor Reynolds’ chief of staff. Jeffrey Boeyink, a registered lobbyist for Summit and Energy Transfer Partners, was the chief of staff and campaign manager for Iowa’s previous governor, Terry Branstad. And now, Branstad himself works as chief policy advisor for Summit Carbon Solutions. 

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s son, Jess Vilsack, represents Summit as its general counsel. Secretary Vilsack has spent his career pushing the federal incentives that Summit will need to turn a profit. Just last year he allocated $25 million to another carbon capture project in North Dakota. His son now stands to cash in on these policies as Summit’s project advances. 

4. Board Members With Permitting Power Have History With Pipelines

The three-person Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) will ultimately decide if the proposed carbon pipeline projects can operate in the state. Its members are appointed by the governor.

Two of the current board members were appointed by former Governor Terry Branstad during the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline permitting process. (As a reminder, Branstad is now Chief Policy Advisor for Summit Carbon Solutions.) One IUB member, Richard Lozier, was a lawyer for a lobbying group that urged support for Dakota Access.

Moreover, the IUB’s previous general counsel, Samantha Norris, is now representing Navigator CO2 Ventures before the board. 

We Need People Power to Fight The Big Money Behind Carbon Capture

Behind these carbon pipeline proposals lies an intricate and massive web of powerful people. Cushy profiteers are playing inside games with Iowa leadership — and on the national stage.

For instance, in addition to its Iowa expenditures, Navigator has spent $760,000 on federal lobbying since it announced its project. Meanwhile, Senator Manchin’s support on the recent climate bill hinged on a disastrous backroom deal that, among other things, will fast-track approval of two carbon capture projects. 

Our elected leaders must remember who they’re accountable to: the people. While corporations can flood them with cash during campaign season, we have the power to keep them in office — or vote them out.

You can help us shut down these carbon capture schemes and make your voice heard. 

Tell the IUB “No!” to corporate interests and carbon pipelines!

Food & Water Watch Lawyers Are Fighting Carbon Pipelines

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Climate and Energy

by Emma Schmit and Adam Carlesco

Corporations have proposed three carbon pipelines that would cut through 2,000 miles of Iowa land — whether landowners want them or not. 

These pipelines are part of a larger scheme known as carbon capture and storage. Through these high-pressure pipelines, corporations want to transport CO2 from polluting ethanol and fertilizer plants. From there, the carbon could be used for enhanced oil recovery. Similar to fracking, oil companies inject carbon into near-depleted oil fields to draw up the very last dregs of oil.  Alternatively, corporations may sequester the carbon underground, giving them larger tax credits from the federal government.

Carbon capture is expensive and unsound technology that has sparked a host of concerns throughout affected communities, including in Iowa. These concerns include pipelines’ safety risks, the cost to taxpayers, corporations’ use of eminent domain and carbon capture’s dubious climate credentials. Now, Iowans from all walks of life have united in opposition. Polling from our partner organization, Food & Water Action, found that 80% of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for these projects. 

Food & Water Watch is ready to fight tooth and nail to stop the CO2 pipelines. Pipeline companies have a long road ahead of them before their projects can break ground. Our lawyers will be there at every step, ensuring that the public’s health, safety and quality of life take priority over corporate interests. Here’s how we’ll do it.

First, Carbon Pipelines Need Permits

Carbon pipelines are highly underregulated, particularly by the federal government. But pipeline corporations will have to worm their way around a few environmental safeguards. Companies need permits to cross waterways, federal lands and the habitats of endangered species. 

Before construction can begin, these pipeline proposals will need permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for any dredging and filling in a U.S. waterway. The developers must also receive a right-of-way from the Bureau of Land Management if the pipelines cross any federal lands. Permitting agencies will also consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure no endangered species are impacted by the project.

Many states are a regulatory Wild West for carbon pipelines. These are the first carbon pipelines ever proposed in Iowa, so agencies are essentially writing rules as the projects move ahead. That said, companies have to meet a variety of state-level requirements to obtain the permits needed to break ground. These can differ from state to state, but in Iowa, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) is responsible for approving or denying the proposed carbon pipelines.

FWW Will Stand Before The Iowa Utilities Board

For each of the three pipeline proposals, the three-member IUB must decide whether the project serves the public interest. (Members of the board were appointed by Governor Reynolds and her predecessor, former Governor Branstad. Notably, Branstad now works for Summit Carbon Solutions, the first pipeline company to begin IUB’s permitting process.) 

The IUB must consider the projects’ impacts on public health, the environment and safety. To do that, it relies on those impacted by the project to raise issues affecting them, through the proceeding’s docket. Based on those testimonies, the project’s purported need and any other factor bearing on the public interest, the IUB will decide whether to approve the proposals or not. 

We’ll Be With Iowans Every Step Of The Way

We have a long road ahead of us to push back on these pipelines. The timeline of IUB hearings will stretch well into 2023 — and that’s just for Summit’s project. But Food & Water Watch is committed to this fight and will be with Iowans every step of the way.

This month, Food & Water Watch became an official legal party to Summit Carbon Solution’s IUB docket. We now have legal standing to engage in the IUB’s permitting process. This allows us to better fight for the interests of our 24,000 Iowa members and supporters by voicing concerns throughout the permit hearings and requesting rehearings as needed. After the hearing, the IUB will deny or grant the permit, as well as the use of eminent domain. If the Board does greenlight Summit’s dangerous proposal, we’ll be ready to appeal.

We’re putting our all into this fight, from our lawyers, to our organizers, to our policy experts. But our most powerful support will come from you. Will you join us?

With so much on the line, it’s critical that the Iowa Utilities Board hears from you. Our opponents may spend billions to fight this issue, but they will never match the power created by people coming together. It’s up to us to hold the agencies designed to protect us accountable. We must demand that the IUB puts the interests of Iowans before the interests of private corporations. Tell the IUB that Iowans do not support hazardous carbon pipelines by sending a message now.

Tell the IUB: No Carbon Pipelines!

Will The Manchin Climate Bill Reduce Climate Pollution?

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Climate and Energy

by Jim Walsh and Peter Hart

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) takes aim at a lot of things over the next decade — everything from prescription drug prices to corporate tax rates. For climate advocates, the headlining claim is this: the IRA would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 42%.

But that target isn’t actually in the bill. In fact, there are no emissions targets in the bill at all. Instead, this legislation relies on carrots (money to nudge private markets in the right direction) over sticks (actual mandates to reduce pollution).

So where does that 42% number come from? And is that reduction actually likely?

Several models claim to predict the IRA’s outcomes, but the one getting the most attention is from Princeton University’s REPEAT Project. Its model estimates that, without any new legislation, emissions will fall about 27% from 2005 highs. With the IRA, according to the model, emissions could fall about 42%.

But the model relies on some suspect reductions. For example, that 42% would need an astonishing turnaround for so-called carbon capture technologies. And it forecasts a massive increase in the deployment of clean energy — as well as tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles with requirements that no maker can meet yet.

The Analysis Makes A Bad Bet On Carbon Capture

The REPEAT analysis acknowledges that carbon capture is currently responsible for almost no emissions reductions. However, it projects that emissions reductions from carbon capture will reach 50 megatons of carbon by 2024 — mostly from coal plants -– and 200 million tons per year by 2030. 

There’s no explanation for this miraculous growth, but the analysis nonetheless suggests there will be “6 gigawatts of carbon capture retrofits at existing coal-fired power plants and 18 gigawatts of gas power plants with carbon capture installed by 2030.” These assumptions would require $17 billion in carbon capture tax credits in 2030 alone. That is far more than the $3.2 billion total 2022-2031 expenditure the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Overall, the analysis assumes that carbon capture would deliver “roughly one-sixth to one-fifth” of total emissions cuts. This is an unfathomable improvement for an industry that has failed to deliver emissions reductions after decades of research and billions in funding. 

The analysis also leaves its assumptions unclear on the actual emissions reductions of carbon capture technology. While the industry claims it can capture 90% of emissions, real-world analyses of full lifecycle emissions put that figure closer to 39%, at best. And captured CO2 is almost entirely used for more oil drilling, eliminating any supposed climate benefits.

Counting On Cars That Might Not Exist

The analysis also pins emissions reductions on changes to existing tax credits for electric vehicles. But there are serious questions about this policy. Several reports have already noted that there are currently no EVs that will meet the IRA’s requirements. The bill mandates that tax credits can only go to EVs with battery and mineral components sourced from the U.S. or favored trading partners. 

The supply chains to make these cars don’t even exist yet, but the model assumes they will. It seems logical to think a more generous tax credit would increase EV purchases. However, real-world limitations could significantly limit projected emissions reductions. 

The Model Misses Fossil Fuels And Frontline Communities 

The REPEAT analysis also assumes continued growth in fossil fuels; gas-fired power and coal stay strong in the energy mix. This is particularly concerning for communities near fossil fuel infrastructure. They’ll see more pollution from facilities receiving subsidies under the IRA. This is more than just wasting money on dirty infrastructure — it could increase pollution under the guise of climate action.

The fossil fuel industry is also pushing for a massive expansion of fossil fuel exports, which the REPEAT modeling acknowledges. Yet, it doesn’t account for those greenhouse gas emissions in its 42% claims. 

The model also doesn’t account for the “side deal” that secured the support of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, which calls for fast-tracking major new energy projects. Right now, we can’t calculate how that agreement might work, but it explicitly aims to build new sources of pollution more quickly. 

All of this — as well as the IRA’s unconscionable provisions on new drilling on public lands — will take a serious toll on communities near polluting facilities, and will lock us into continued climate emissions.

It Doesn’t Capture Leaking Methane

The IRA’s only provision that directly addresses oil and gas industry emissions is a fee on methane leaks. Under the bill, the fee would rise to $1,500 per ton in 2026. But negotiations with Senator Manchin substantially weakened this provision. Now, it won’t apply to the majority of the industry. 

While that is not part of the REPEAT analysis, we note that they rely on a 100-year timeframe to calculate the CO2 equivalence of methane (instead of 20 years). This is misleading because so much of methane’s climate impact comes in the near-term. 

Moreover, the analysis uses outdated assumptions from the EPA that significantly underestimate methane leakage and the impacts of gas on warming in general.

There’s A Difference Between Models And Reality

There are also fundamental questions about the type of forecasting used in the REPEAT analysis. How well do these models predict the future? What assumptions do they make?

On that count, the report includes caveats that readers might miss. “Optimization modeling used in this work assumes rational economic behavior from all actors,” the authors write. They add that “these results indicate what decisions make good economic sense for consumers and businesses to make … whether or not actors make such decisions in the real world depends on many factors we are unable to model.”

Energy industry actors don’t make rational decisions based on costs, consumer benefits or the public good. For instance, clean renewable power is cheap and abundant, yet utilities embrace fossil fuels. That’s in part because they profit from existing infrastructure that poisons communities and the climate. 

Additionally, the REPEAT modeling doesn’t calculate increases in water and air pollution that will come from carbon capture, hydrogen and other fossil fuel infrastructure likely under the IRA. Increases in harmful emissions other than carbon dioxide and methane will inevitably result from more fracking, pipelines and fossil fuel power plants, too. The burden will fall on disadvantaged communities. Models don’t show these impacts, but they’re real nonetheless.

42% isn’t even close — people need to know about the IRA’s real climate impact.

Iowans: Is Your County Taking a Stand Against Pipelines?

Categories

Climate and Energy

Nevada, Iowa. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Photolibrarian / Flickr
by Emma Schmit and Phoebe Galt

The Midwest has become a new frontier in a battle against carbon pipelines. Corporations are moving fast to cash in on the fossil fuel industry’s latest bogus climate solution. Central to pipeline developers plans: Iowa. With these projects, Iowa could see 1,930 new miles of hazardous pipeline laid across 58 counties. If these companies get their way, two proposals alone would almost double the length of CO2 pipelines in the U.S.

On top of that, they’re scheming to build through private lands under eminent domain, with no need for landowners’ permission. This would introduce explosive health risks to communities — for example, a ruptured pipeline can leak deadly amounts of odorless CO2 for miles. But across Iowa, local governments are taking a stand.

See how your county is fighting back.

What Power Do Local Governments Have?

Carbon pipelines are dangerously under-regulated. They rely on minor state-level approvals and limited federal permits to secure eminent domain authority and start construction. But local governments have an important role to play.

County Boards of Supervisors are charged with protecting the health and safety of their communities and their constituents. They have a crucial role to play in stopping carbon pipeline construction. From zoning restrictions to political leverage, inspector hiring to Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) docket intervention, they have plenty of tools at their disposal. 

Counties are also taking legal action against the carbon pipelines. For example, legally binding ordinances would place strict parameters on pipeline construction. Under the Model Ordinance drafted by Food & Water Watch put forward to Supervisors in all impacted counties, they can decide how far away from hospitals, schools and homes pipelines must be built. They can also require specific emergency response service capacity before pipelines can operate. With these decisions, local governments wield critical power to keep their constituents safe. 

More Than Half Of Impacted Iowa Counties Object to Carbon Pipelines

Summit Carbon Solutions is the first company to move through the IUB permitting process. The company is behind the proposal for the world’s largest carbon pipeline (2,000 miles), a third of which will pass through Iowa. Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures is behind the second pipeline, proposed to cover roughly 1,300 miles, two-thirds of which would pass through Iowa. ADM/Wolf are behind a third 350-mile pipeline.

The IUB docket for Summit’s project is already chock-full of formal objections from County Boards of Supervisors. Local governments are joining their constituents in submitting official opposition statements to the IUB, which will decide the projects’ fate. The message is clear — dangerous carbon pipelines are unwelcome in Iowa.

As of July 5:

  • 57% of all Iowa counties impacted by carbon pipeline proposals have submitted formal objections.
  • 75% of the Iowa counties impacted by both Summit and Navigator have submitted formal objections.
  • 76% of the Iowa counties impacted by Summit have submitted formal objections.
  • 41% of the counties impacted by Navigator have submitted formal objections.

Will Pipelines Affect Your County?

A staggering swath of Iowa counties is going to be affected by the push for planned pipelines. Objections? They have more than a few.

We Need Everybody On Board: Add Your Voice 

We need to use every tool in our toolbox to fight these pipelines. Whether or not your county has yet submitted a formal objection, you can ask them to pass a Model Ordinance that will protect your community. Call on your county supervisors to do their part and stand up to these dangerous projects now:

Tell Your County Supervisors: No CO2 Pipelines in Iowa!