Eminent Domain & Landowner Rights
Update From the House of Representatives: Eminent Domain Legislation
By Rep. Helena Hayes of Iowa House District 88
Recently, the Iowa House passed a bill to protect landowner rights as three major CO2 pipeline projects are in the works in Iowa. The bill gets at the crux of the issue – eminent domain should not be used for private gain. It requires that carbon capture pipeline companies reach voluntary easements for 90% of the land on their route before they could seek to use eminent domain.
What is eminent domain?
“Eminent domain” refers to the taking of privately owned land by the government. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution as interpreted establishes the right of eminent domain… “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Iowa code grants the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) the power to “take” private land (eminent domain) for electric power plants, transmission lines, intrastate natural gas pipelines, and hazardous liquids pipelines.
The Iowa Utilities Board is a three person board appointed by the Governor.
How can pipeline companies use eminent domain?
Iowa code allows the IUB to grant their own power of eminent domain to any company it chooses. The law says the taking must serve a public purpose, so the pipeline companies will claim its public purpose is to remove CO2 as a way to combat climate change. Companies have to go through a legal process to obtain this power to use eminent domain. The process to begin constructing a pipeline includes holding informational meetings in the area and obtaining easements from the landowners. If easements cannot be obtained, the company can reroute the pipeline or can request the use of eminent domain.
What is a voluntary easement?
A voluntary easement means that the landowner is agreeing, without requiring the company to go through eminent domain, to give the company a right to construct the pipeline on the landowner’s property. The voluntary easement may give the company broader rights than it would get through eminent domain or it may provide for a lower payment than the landowner would get through eminent domain.
The bill creates an interim study committee that will make recommendations that will improve eminent domain policy in Iowa. It will take a look at the following issue that have been discussed at length throughout this process:
Standards for entering land for surveying purposes
Review of land restoration standards
Review of eminent domain public benefit and private use tests
Engineering study analysis
Land compensation practices and procedures
Iowa Utility Board perspectives
The study committee shall consist of five senators, three appointed by the majority party and two appointed by the minority party, and five Representatives, three appointed by the speaker of the house and two appointed by the minority leader of the House. The legislative council is encouraged to appoint public members to the study committee or direct the study committee to seek input from or to appoint members of the public. The study committee shall meet during the 2023 legislative interim (time not in session) and submit a report containing recommendations to the members of the general assembly by December 15, 2023.
This bill may not be seen as perfect by folks on either side of this issue. House Republicans are seeking to support the ethanol industry while ensuring landowners rights are respected. The party believes this bill strikes that balance while opposing the use of eminent domain to construct the pipelines.