I am Senator Jeff Taylor. I am the sponsor of the bill that is being considered today. I want to thank the chair of the Commerce Committee for scheduling this subcommittee meeting and the members of the subcommittee for considering this proposal. I want to thank everyone who is here to listen and speak, whether in person or online.
This bill addresses a real problem and, if left unaddressed, the problem will continue after the two or three current carbon pipeline permits are settled one way or the other. My bill addresses a systemic problem. It’s not personal in regard to IUB members or staff, or in regard to those who own or manage any particular pipeline company.
SF 2160 would remove from the Iowa Utilities Board the power to grant eminent domain for projects of private companies. 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 Londonruling, 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 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.”
Seven years ago, during the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, a public opinion poll showed that even though 57% of Iowans supported construction of that pipeline, 74% “were opposed to the use of of eminent domain condemnation on behalf of a private corporation.” (Wikipedia: DMR, 3-2-15) The vast majority of Republicans, and Iowans in general, understand why it’s wrong and what’s at stake.
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. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it, that matters in life.
Unfortunately, this bill faces an uphill climb on the pathway to becoming law. But even when the going is difficult, we have to try to move forward. The right path is often not the easy path. I’m grateful for today’s public hearing and look forward to listening to the comments of the public.