GOP presidential field generally opposes eminent domain for carbon pipelines

By: - December 19, 2023 12:58 pm
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has made eminent domain one of his top campaign issues in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has made eminent domain one of his top campaign issues in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican presidential contenders are generally against using eminent domain to build carbon dioxide pipelines, according to their public statements in recent months and information their campaigns have provided to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The issue is a regional dispute that has gained wider attention as the candidates seek Iowans’ votes in the upcoming first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Three such pipeline have been proposed in Iowa in recent years. One of the projects failed amid regulatory setbacks but two others are pending.

Summit Carbon Solutions is the furthest along in its permitting process in Iowa. Final arguments about its permit are due next month, after which the Iowa Utilities Board will decide whether to approve the project and the company’s use of eminent domain to obtain land easements for about a quarter of its nearly 700-mile route in the state.

Many of those who oppose the project argue that eminent domain is improper because the pipeline system doesn’t serve a sufficient public benefit. There are also those who are ambivalent about the pipeline projects themselves but who still oppose their use of eminent domain.

Nearly 80% of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for the pipelines, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll in March, and it’s an issue that is being raised at presidential campaign events.

 Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters in a campaign visit to Council Bluffs on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters in a campaign visit to Council Bluffs on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

“Well, you know, we’re working on that,” Trump said. “And you know, we had a plan to totally — it’s such a ridiculous situation isn’t it? But we had a plan, and we would have instituted that plan. It was all ready, but we will get it right away. If we win, that’s going to be taken care of. That will be one of the easy things we do.”

His campaign did not respond to a request to comment further about the issue.

Trump has a commanding lead among Iowa’s likely Republican caucusgoers, according to a recent Iowa Poll. About 51% say he is their top pick.

His closest contenders — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who are the top picks of 19% and 16% of likely voters — have said the use of eminent domain should be avoided for the projects.

“There is a narrow role for eminent domain for things that are of really significant public use,” DeSantis said in Garner in August, according to Radio Iowa. “I mean, it has been used for highways. I would use it for the border wall down south if need be, but that would be kind of last resort.”

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In September, Haley told Radio Iowa she supports the pipeline concepts for their potential to help the ethanol industry but that eminent domain should not be used to build them.

“I want us to be energy dominant, and I think we do that by having an all-of-the-above energy approach, but we have to always be respectful of the rights and freedoms of hardworking Americans,” Haley said.

Summit’s pipeline system would span five states and would transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to North Dakota for underground storage. The project would enable the company and ethanol producers to also capture generous federal tax credits for sequestering the greenhouse gas and for producing low-carbon fuels.

Ethanol producers would further benefit from the ability to sell their fuels in low-carbon markets.

Opposition to the pipelines and the state rules that regulate them has grown over time. The Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives approved legislation to restrict the use of eminent domain for the projects in its last legislative session. And despite recent federal court rulings that said Iowa counties do not have the power regulate the pipeline routes, more counties are considering pipeline ordinances and are prepared for a legal fight. Kossuth County adopted such an ordinance last week.

 2024 Republican presidential candidate Ryan Binkley signs a hat after speaking with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 15, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
2024 Republican presidential candidate Ryan Binkley signs a hat after speaking with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 15, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Presidential candidate Ryan Binkley, a Texas pastor and businessman, announced his opposition to the pipeline projects in September. He called Summit’s project “a controversial approach to fight climate change with technology that has produced inconsistent results.”

“I’ve met with hundreds of people on this issue,” Binkley said. “Only one person I met with has been in favor of it, and they work for an ethanol company. A few companies stand to make a lot of money from this pipeline.”

His opposition to the projects appears to have had little effect on his support among caucusgoers. About 0% of Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll respondents listed Binkley as their top pick.

Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, is polling at 5% and recently took up the pipeline issue in opposition of eminent domain. He insinuated that the candidates he trails in the polls are reluctant to speak strongly against the projects — which he said serve no legitimate purpose — because of donations they have received from pro-pipeline groups. Similar accusations have been leveled against some of the state’s elected officials.

“Every politician dances to the tune of their biggest donor,” Ramaswamy said at an event early this month with the Free Soil Coalition.

He called for the Iowa Utilities Board to deny eminent domain for Summit’s $5.5 billion project and said the board’s ruling should be challenged in court if it doesn’t. Ramaswamy further said that, as president, he would bar the federal tax credits for companies that use eminent domain.

“These projects are illegal and unconstitutional under settled law,” he said.

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association — which advocates for the ethanol industry and supports the pipeline projects — released a lengthy rebuttal to Ramaswamy’s position on the pipeline projects, which it said is “driven by politics” and is “just an attempt at clickbait for his campaign.”

The association said Ramaswamy’s disdain for carbon dioxide pipelines is at odds with his support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was blocked by President Joe Biden.

“Keystone is a private, foreign-owned, for-profit entity that is using eminent domain to secure its route,” said Monte Shaw, the association’s executive director. “Any politician who touts support for the Keystone XL pipeline while attacking carbon pipelines in Iowa on the basis of protecting property rights is nothing more than a hypocrite.”

Candidate Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, also said eminent domain isn’t appropriate for the projects.

Instead, a fair negotiation process should be employed, and if landowners do not agree, pipeline builders should seek alternative routes,” Hutchinson told Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Jared Strong is the senior reporter for the Iowa Capital Dispatch. He has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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