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Don’t drink ethanol’s doomsday Kool-Aid

Dickinson County News - Staff Photo -

Things are not going as planned for three deep-pocketed investment companies seeking permits from the Iowa Utilities Board. They expected to move into Iowa, throw billions of dollars around, scoop up the land they needed for hazardous liquid CO2 pipelines using eminent domain and start laying thousands of miles of pipe later this year. Instead, projects like the Midwest Carbon Express are going off the rails.

Unexpected glitches delay construction. The IUB postponed Summit’s hearing until more of the 1,500 remaining parcels are signed, but most unsigned landowners won’t return acquisition agents’ phone calls. Navigator withdrew its application in Illinois, where pore space for liquid CO2 is protected from eminent domain, and landowners there refuse to sign easements. Wolf/ADM is running into opposition in southeast Iowa, where landowners ask pointed questions and county supervisors discuss restrictive ordinances.

Added to the problems, bills aimed at curbing eminent domain abuse have been introduced at the Capitol. They’re gaining traction in the House and Senate as more legislators hear concerns about eminent domain for profit from their constituents.

What is an enterprise after spending billions over the past two years, but the plan isn’t working? Obviously, there is only one thing to do – play the doomsday card with slick mailers, newspaper reports and radio interviews.

Ethanol plants across Iowa sent letters supporting Carbon Capture and Sequestration to their corn producers. Without CCS, they cautioned, the ethanol industry would face devastating financial losses and producers would need to pay shipping charges to sell elsewhere.

Next, newspaper and radio reports warned that ethanol producers will lose billions and be unable to compete in the global market without CCS. Even more alarming was the finding that 75 percent of ethanol plants will leave Iowa without CCS and move to neighboring states that use CCS.

The doomsday scenarios were based on a study commissioned by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. Not surprisingly, ADM is a member of IRFA, and Summit, Navigator and Wolf are associate members. The dubious findings are obviously questionable because of conflicts of interest.

The study’s warnings sound dire, but they’re not credible. It’s highly unlikely any of our neighbors will pursue CCS without Iowa. The proposed pipeline routes crisscross five states in addition to Iowa — Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Iowa is the pass-through state leading to the sequestration sites in North Dakota and Illinois. Without Iowa’s vast network of ethanol plants and huge percentage of captured CO2, the remaining states cannot create stand-alone projects. Furthermore, CCS is as unpopular with landowners in neighboring states as it is in Iowa, and the companies struggle to get landowner signatures in all of them.

Handwringing about ethanol’s demise without CCS is nothing more than a scare tactic designed to paint unsigned landowners as guilty of hindering ethanol’s future and Iowa’s progress. It’s a disingenuous plan to sway legislators into voting down eminent domain reform and force landowners into signing easements.

Just last month, ethanol plants boasted of record-breaking profits and predicted a bright future. How can an industry be booming one minute and struggling to stay afloat the next? Don’t drink ethanol’s doomsday Kool-Aid.

Bonnie Ewoldt

Milford resident and Crawford County landowner

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