Landowners plead for their right to keep carbon pipeline off their land

August 2, 2023

Joshua Haiar

FORT PIERRE, S.D.–Landowners urged the state Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday to help them prevent a liquid carbon dioxide pipeline from crossing their land.

It was the fifth day of a hearing at the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre on Navigator CO2’s application for a permit to construct the Heartland Greenway pipeline. It was also the first day of landowner testimony, after prior days of testimony from company officials, experts and representatives of pipeline construction workers.

Joshua Haiar with South Dakota Searchlight reports one of the testifying landowners was state Rep. Karla Lems (pictured)  of Canton. She introduced an unsuccessful bill during last winter’s legislative session that would have barred carbon pipelines from using eminent domain. That’s a legal process for gaining access to land when a landowner won’t grant it.

Lems said she has invested “hundreds of hours” into learning about and fighting against the projects. She said carbon pipelines provide “private gain for a private company, not for public use.”

Lems is particularly concerned about the potential impacts on the value of property her family intends to sell for development south of Sioux Falls, the state’s fastest-growing region.

“It would prohibit us from building structures, those kinds of things that would be needed,” Lems said. “It will obviously, definitely affect the economic development.”
Reading from prepared remarks, Lems added, “Please search your heart, and do right by the citizens who elected you to represent them and their best interests, which is to deny this application.”

The proposed 1,300-mile, approximately $3 billion Heartland Greenway pipeline would link 21 ethanol plants (including three in South Dakota) and several fertilizer plants across five states. The project would include about 112 miles of pipeline in eastern South Dakota, in Brookings, Moody, Minnehaha, Lincoln and Turner counties.

The pipeline would capture carbon dioxide emitted by the plants and transport it in liquefied form for underground storage in Illinois, or for commercial and industrial uses. The project would be eligible for up to $1.3 billion in annual federal tax credits, which are intended to help fight climate change by incentivizing the removal of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The company says it has offered landowners an average of $24,000 per acre in negotiations for easements to cross private land. Navigator has easements with about 30% of affected landowners. The company has not yet used eminent domain.

William Taylor, the attorney representing union workers who would construct the pipeline, said multiple pipelines already cross Lems’ land, and those projects had the authority to use eminent domain.

Lems testified that she allowed those pipelines to cross her land without the need for eminent domain. She said that’s because other pipelines carry products such as propane, natural gas and oil — “all things the public will use.”

She distinguishes those uses from liquid carbon dioxide, which would either be injected underground or sold to commercial or industrial customers to be used for things like oil extraction or dry ice.

Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson referenced the one-time easement payment available to affected landowners and the greater potential demand for corn created by the pipeline.

“Am I to infer there are things more important to you than dollars and cents?” Nelson asked.

“It’s called freedom,” Lems replied. “We should be able to say we want to be part of a project or say ‘no thank you.’”

Rick Bonander and other impacted landowners expressed similar concerns. Bonander lives near Valley Springs, 15 minutes from Sioux Falls. He asked the commission, “Who is going to want to live next to a CO2 pipeline?”

Some of the pipeline’s opponents are concerned about toxic carbon dioxide plumes from potential leaks. In 2020, a leak in a carbon pipeline in Mississippi caused the evacuation of about 200 people and sent 45 to the hospital. In response, federal regulators are reviewing the safety standards for carbon pipelines.

Bonander talked about carbon dioxide’s uses in the livestock industry and said “it’s a very effective way of euthanizing animals,” but not something people want to live near.

“I live in the United States of America and should be able to say no,” Bonander said.

Miles Lacey is a farmer from Valley Springs with land that would be impacted by the pipeline. He testified that the proposed route is too close to his home and livestock operation for his comfort.

“We could show up one morning and everything is dead,” Lacey said.

Moody County landowner Connie Beyer-Lalonde testified that if the pipeline is authorized and constructed on some of her family’s land, “I could not, in good conscience, continue to rent that out.”

The hearing is scheduled to continue through Saturday.