An “unlikely” alliance of rural conservatives, environmentalists, and Indigenous groups is resisting the potential use of the eminent domain doctrine—a legal tool that allows private land to be seized for perceived public good—to build America’s largest carbon dioxide pipeline.
When Summit Carbon Solutions began holding meetings in Midwestern towns last autumn, its goal was “to introduce residents to a 2,000-mile, US$4.5 billion pipeline called the Midwest Carbon Express,” and to persuade landowners along its proposed route to sign “voluntary easements” allowing the company to bury its pipeline and pay landowners for the privilege, writes Grist. The line would carry CO2 from ethanol refineries in Iowa to carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities in North Dakota.
While many signed up immediately, “others were more cautious, hoping for more information or a better price.”
Farmer Don Kass, chair of the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors in northwest Iowa, told Grist that while he isn’t against pipelines in general, he’s troubled by what he sees as an infringement of individual property rights.
Kass’ concerns have grown after revelations that Summit has filed the preliminary permits necessary to request the use of eminent domain, a legal provision in the American constitution that allows governments (and, in Iowa, corporations) to seize private property for projects designated to be in the public interest.
He doubts Summit’s proposed pipeline fits that bill, noting that designations of public interest don’t automatically arise “[just] because somebody’s making money on it, and people see that there’s some advantage.”
Environmentalist members of the ad hoc alliance, meanwhile, are warning of the “dubious climate benefits” of the carbon pipeline and CCS gambit, arguing that the new infrastructure will serve only to “lock in additional fossil fuel use and divert resources from the transition to renewable energy.”
Indigenous groups like the Great Plains Action Society have joined the alliance after their direct and bitter experience with the use of eminent domain to complete oil projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Describing the private property rights argument as “controversial” for many Indigenous peoples given that “the Indigenous folks made this land home long before European contact,” Great Plains Action organizer Mahmud Fitil said their participation in such an “unlikely” alliance owes to their recognition of the urgent need for a united front against powerful corporate interests.
Emma Schmit, a senior organizer for the Iowa chapter of Food & Water Watch, told Grist that divisions between landowners, tribes, and environmentalists was one of the reasons the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline was lost.