“Local Control, Eminent Domain, Publicly Funded Pipelines for Private Gain.”

I’ve had my eye on developments happening in the Corn Belt and Great Plains for a while now, namely proposals from private companies building carbon dioxide pipelines that would ship gas to North Dakota or Southern Illinois for supposedly permanent underground storage in geologic formations. Several of these CO2 pipelines are planned throughout the region so far, mostly led by the ethanol industry and supporters of industrial agriculture in Iowa.

The concept is that industrial operations (like those fermenting corn to make ethanol) will build some sort of envelope or containment apparatus to catch their CO2 emissions rather than just allow the gases to enter the atmosphere. After it’s captured, the CO2 is concentrated on site and shipped via pipeline for “sequestration” underground. This is what’s called “Carbon Capture and Storage” (CCS). 

For those of us involved with reporting or policy wonking or the politics of reducing climate action in rural America, this is a big topic. I’ve discussed the issue with my favorite climate scientists (hello, Union of Concerned Scientists), and though many are skeptical, it’s important to point out that CCS is a critical component of nearly all of the base scientific models that get the U.S. to “net zero” carbon pollution.

I’ve been as even-handed as I can be at this point about these CO2 pipeline proposals, but now I’m gonna level with you. I have absolutely no idea how these current proposals make any sense for the Midwest. Here’s some thoughts:

  1. CO2 is a dangerous gas that is both highly explosive and fatal when breathed in high concentrations by humans, livestock and wildlife. And pipelines leak. We know that from experience.
  1. CO2 pipelines don’t generate much operating revenue because there’s no market for CO2 at the other end of the pipe. Massive government spending is required to make the finances work out. And that means that landowners can’t negotiate for royalties like they can for oil and gas pipelines. So pipeline companies are trying to use eminent domain to force landowners to allow use of their land without fair compensation.
  1. CO2 storage fields are located in places where there is frack gas activity, and that means piped CO2 is likely to be used to pressurize more fossil fuel production. Is pumping more fossil fuel out of the ground good for the climate?

My biggest problem with these schemes is the obvious corruption angle. They are literally only possible because of billions of dollars in federal funding. And who benefits? Let’s take a look at one proposed CO2 pipeline, being developed by Summit Carbon Solutions, who has already asked the state of Iowa’s Utilities Board for permission to use eminent domain to build out their massive project.

Summit is led by Bruce Rastetter, central to Iowa’s corporate hog boom and a key funder of Iowa’s shift toward Republican politics. Rastetter is joined by Terry Branstad, a former Iowa Republican Governor and Trump Administration Ambassador to China. Summit also employs Jess Vilsack, son of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (who, coincidentally, has also been Governor of Iowa). Those are some heavy hitters in Midwestern politics.

On the opposition side, there is serious momentum against these proposals, driven by a coalition of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota grassroots Democrats, anti-corruption groups, environmental groups and private property rights/anti-eminent domain types.

We’ll keep you informed about the CO2 pipelines developments here at Keep It Rural. Will the grassroots people be able to stop the corporate pipeline/ethanol behemoth? Will voters change their opinion based on political positions on these issues? We shall see.

Rural Reading List

We’ve got a couple of rural housing stories this week on the reading list, as well as a look at rural politics in Pennsylvania and an op-ed written about a New York Times video commentary on industrial agriculture. Check them out:

Rural Nebraska’s Housing Crunch Is Costing Towns New Residents Who ‘Have Nowhere to Live’ 

It’s hard to move to rural Nebraska for available local jobs or remote work when there is no housing available.

Iowa State University Looks to 3D Printing for Affordable Housing in a Rural Community

They’re printing houses in rural Iowa, Keep It Rural readers.

‘The Brand Is so Toxic’: Dems Fear Extinction in Rural U.S.

The most recent AP story making the rounds in the “Democrats are so worried about their brand in rural” genre.

The New York Times Took on the Food System. Here’s What They Missed.

Important commentary from our friends at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) on what the NYT got right and wrong in their recent controversial videos covering factory farms and the meatpacking industry.

One More Thing: Black Farmer Debt Relief Still Being Blocked.

In terms of keeping you informed and updated about a story we’ve been tracking, there has still been no resolution for black farmers waiting on USDA and the legal system to implement the debt relief the farmers were promised by the Biden Administration last year.

In a recent story, the New York Times profiled Brandon Smith who signed up for the program quickly, only to find out later that instead of debt relief he’s now experiencing accelerated foreclosure. “I trusted the government that we had a deal, and down here at the end of the day, the rug gets pulled out from under me,” Smith told the NYT.

It’s easy to blame the white supremacists who filed the lawsuits challenging this funding, but USDA bungled this program from the very beginning. And now farmers like Brandon Smith are living in a purgatory of broken promises and false hope.

I’d like to see this mess gets cleaned up as soon as possible. All the “good intentions” in the world can’t compete with incompetence, poorly constructed legislation and lack of attention to the details of good governance.

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