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!

Big Oil’s Bet On Plastic Is Gambling With Our Future

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Climate and Energy

CC BY 2.0, Dying Regime / Flickr
by Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

Although we have a long fight ahead of us to transition off fossil fuels, the tide is turning. Consumers around the world are demanding greener power and more action on climate change. 

Big Oil has read the writing on the wall and has added a new tool to its arsenal — plastics. While public opinion turns against dirty energy, corporations are pushing petrochemicals to keep us hooked on fossil fuels.

Big Oil Is Betting Billions On Plastic

In the 2010s, the fracking boom created such a glut of natural gas that the industry scrambled to find new markets for it. Petrochemical companies were happy to step in. Ethane, a main raw material in many plastics, has doubled production in the U.S. from 2013 to 2021. Desperate to offload the surplus, U.S. companies send it around the world, often at bargain-bin prices. Ethane exported from the U.S. has gone from nonexistent to 300,000 barrels a day. The result — an explosion of plastic. Now, experts expect plastic production and consumption to triple by 2060.

The construction planned to expand the industry needs to stay in the blueprints. From cracker plants to pipelines, this infrastructure is expensive and dangerous. If all the planned projects are completed, emissions from plastics will double by 2050. These projects include 350 chemical plants that would introduce health risks to nearby communities. But since 2010, petrochemical companies have already spent $200 billion to expand plastics manufacturing infrastructure. 

At the same time, public opinion is getting hip to our plastic problem. Cities and states across America are banning certain kinds of single-use plastic. On a global level, Canada, India, France, and many other countries have placed their own bans just this year. Such measures predict shifting prices and future failure. Big Oil’s bet on the industry will entrench billions of dollars into infrastructure that will likely become unprofitable in a few years. 

Plastic Pose Growing Public Health Problems

If allowed to grow, the plastics industry stands to harm our families and communities in so many ways. For one, plastics release toxic chemicals all throughout their life cycle. From volatile organic compounds emitted during fracking, to heavy metals released during recycling, we absorb these toxins by breathing, eating or simply touching them.

Then, there are the pipelines. To make plastics, companies first extract ethane from natural gas liquids. Moving those NGLs requires miles of new pipelines. But NGLs are volatile and flammable, meaning pipelines have a host of health, safety and environmental risks. Yet, most of these lines aren’t regulated, sited or permitted by the federal government. Many states don’t step in, so miles and miles of hazardous pipelines have no oversight at all.

On top of that, the petrochemical industry has a long history of environmental racism. Companies have often cited polluting plants near low-income communities and communities of color. In Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” dozens of petrochemical plants dapple the shores of the Mississippi for 80 miles. The emissions from those plants rain yellow droplets of pollution and kill birds mid-flight. The mostly black and brown residents in the region have some of the greatest risks for cancer in the country.

Despite What Big Oil Tells Us, Recycling Doesn’t Work

For decades, petrochemical companies — often owned by the same oil and gas giants — touted ad campaigns (to the tune of $50 million a year) to keep us buying more plastic. They funded projects and created regulations, signaling that we could solve our plastic problem with some blue bins. But most of what we throw in those blue bins will never see a recycling facility. Only 1 in 10 plastics made from 1950 to 2015 have been recycled. In 2021, that number dropped to 1 in 20. 

Even the plastics that make it to a recycling center can’t be properly recycled. Instead, they’re downcycled, or turned into a lower-quality plastic. After that, they can only be downcycled once or twice more before they have to be tossed into a landfill. 

The newest flavor of the recycling myth goes by “advanced recycling,” which uses chemicals and high heat to break down plastics. The process, which is expensive and emissions-intensive, usually just results in a low-grade fossil fuel. Advanced recycling actually creates more greenhouse gasses than sending the plastic to a landfill or incinerating it. 

Yet, the plastics industry has pushed several states to loosen advanced recycling regulations, or even subsidize them. Taxpayers are funding Big Oil’s schemes to make plastic socially acceptable — when in fact, they’ll just create more problems and worsen climate change. 

We Can’t Let Big Oil Get Away With Plastics

Plastics are a danger to human health and climate. While they have a few important uses, Big Oil is pushing way more plastic than we need. The lie of consumer demand needs to be unraveled. In reality, packaging makes up 40% of produced plastics — which consumers have little say in.

The more Big Oil builds out its infrastructure and floods the market with plastics, the bigger the problem becomes. 

We can stop them in their tracks, starting with:

  1. Banning single-use plastics. These include water bottles, packaging and utensils, and they make up most of plastic waste. They end up in landfills, incinerators and our waterways. Like all plastics, they break down into microplastics, where they move much more easily and stealthily. Now, we find plastic in our sea salt, seafood, beer, honey, sugar and so much more.
  2. Banning fracking and new petrochemical facilities. We’ve known for years that fracking does irreparable damage to our environment and our communities. Petrochemical facilities are just as harmful. They’re also feeding the plastic problem, and stand to make it much, much worse. 

We need all hands on deck to stop Big Oil’s Plan B.

Iowans: Is Your County Taking a Stand Against Pipelines?

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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!