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!