This week I introduced a bill to remove from the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) the power to grant eminent domain for projects of private companies (Senate File 2160). The bill is in response to complaints from family farmers and local governments in northwest Iowa about two proposed carbon dioxide (CO2) pipelines—the companies are Summit and Navigator—and the threat of eminent domain being used to seize private property from landowners in the form of easements.
I’ve listened to concerns expressed at county Farm Bureau meetings and I’ve read letters of opposition to eminent domain sent to IUB by the Boards of Supervisors of most of the counties I represent (Sioux, O’Brien, Plymouth). Your voices have been heard and I am trying to help.
The Takings Clause of both the U.S. Constitution (Article V) and the Iowa Constitution (Article I, Section 18), which address eminent domain, use the specific language of “public use” in regard to this power. Unfortunately, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Kelo v. City of New London ruling, incorrectly interpreted the Constitution by conflating and confusing the concept of “public use” with the broader concept of “public purpose.” In this way, the majority of the justices—the five most liberal members of the Court—approved the use of eminent domain as a tool for private companies rather than reserving it only for governments in direct service of the public.
It was the four conservative justices who correctly disagreed with this erroneous ruling. In their dissent, they warned, “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.” This result is inherently unfair and it violates the actual words of our federal and state constitutions.
Grassroots members of the Republican Party of Iowa agree with the aim of SF 2160. Our 2020 platform is crystal clear: “We oppose federal or state government taking private property away from the owner for the use of another private party. Eminent domain should be used only for public use.”
Although the Kelo case was incorrectly decided, the Court’s majority stated, “[N]othing in our opinion precludes any State from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power.” The Iowa Legislature has the authority, based on these words and (more importantly) the Tenth Amendment, to remove the private-company “carve out” for the Iowa Utilities Board that was put into place when a 2006 state law, in response to Kelo, put new restrictions on eminent domain in Iowa.
My bill is not motivated by opposition to two specific carbon capture hazardous liquid pipelines. It is based on age-old respect for private property, literal interpretation of our constitutions, and the principle that profit for the few should not outweigh the rights of the many.
Regardless of the economic or environmental merits of these specific pipeline projects—including benefit to the ethanol industry and trickle-down benefit to corn growers—there is neither constitutional nor ethical justification for government to use its coercive power to seize private land or force an easement primarily for the benefit of wealthy, well-connected business owners. If you agree, I encourage you to contact state legislators. There is similar legislation pending in the Iowa House.