During debate with lawmaker, carbon pipeline executive calls eminent domain a “last resort”

August 23, 2023

BROOKINGS — An executive for a carbon dioxide pipeline company said during a debate Tuesday evening that eminent domain is “a tool of absolute last resort.”

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of government and public affairs for Navigator CO2, debated state Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, at the Dacotah Bank Event Center.

Hansen is a critic of Navigator’s proposed pipeline and another pipeline proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions, both of which would capture carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol plants in multiple states and transport the gas in liquid form to be injected underground or sold for industrial use.

Eminent domain is a legal process for gaining access to land when a landowner won’t grant it. Summit is pursuing dozens of eminent domain actions in court for its project, while Navigator has not yet used eminent domain and has said it has voluntary land-access agreements – called “easements” – with about 30% of affected landowners in the state.

When asked if Navigator could guarantee it won’t use eminent domain, Burns-Thompson said that can’t be promised in every circumstance.

Hansen said the initial letters the company sent out threatened eminent domain.

Joshua Haiar with South Dakota Searchlight reports Burns-Thompson did not address that allegation during the debate. She told South Dakota Searchlight later that “we are required to explain how eminent domain works in Iowa in those initial notice letters,” and the company decided those letters should be consistent everywhere, “in the name of transparency.”

Hansen said when eminent domain is hanging overhead, “no matter how you slice it, that’s not a voluntary negotiation, that’s coercion.”

The debate drew a crowd of hundreds — mostly landowners opposed to the project who cheered for Hansen. The debate was organized by The Dakota Scout, the South Dakota Federation of Republican Women, and the Sioux River Republican Women.

Hansen also attacked the motivation for carbon pipeline projects.

“I would describe this project as a boondoggle,” he said, adding that the only reason for the project is federal tax credits. The credits incentivize the removal of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.

Burns-Thompson countered, reminding the audience that the tax credits have been around since 2008 and were expanded under former President Donald Trump. Congress and President Joe Biden upped the credits last year to $85 per metric ton of carbon sequestered annually, making Navigator’s Heartland Greenway pipeline potentially eligible for up to $1.5 billion in annual credits.

Burns-Thompson described ethanol – which is made from corn to be mixed with gasoline – as more than a fuel. She mentioned its byproducts, including distillers grains, which can be used as livestock feed.

“What’s left?” she asked the crowd. “That CO2.”

Burns-Thompson said by creating a market for ethanol’s carbon byproduct, ethanol will be more successful.

“That’s going to take markets,” she said, referring to states like California, which are demanding cleaner fuels. “That’s going to take infrastructure.”

Hansen, who described himself as a “big fan of ethanol,” said those markets are already shifting to electric vehicles.

“We shouldn’t be appeasing to those people,” Hansen said, criticizing their “leftist climate agenda.”

Burns-Thompson told South Dakota Searchlight that the company accepted the debate invitation because it believes in transparency and open communication.

Navigator has already had a lengthy hearing before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission and is awaiting a decision on its permit application. The commission will begin a hearing for Summit Carbon Solutions on Sept. 11.