Eminent domain should be left out of carbon capture equation

I have talked about sustainability in agriculture for a few years now, often highlighting success stories of farmers and the agriculture industry as a whole making strides to produce sustainable products. However, I believe it is possible to cross the line when creating goals that affect the livelihoods of producers and take away what they worked hard to earn. 

Gaining steam over the last year has been carbon pipelines and their role in helping the U.S. achieve net-zero emissions, allowing for cleaner agricultural practices. Pipelines have been touted as “essential components of carbon capture and storage systems which are proposed to reduce atmospheric emissions.”

I don’t deny that carbon pipelines can be a good thing, but the truth is, many farmers don’t want them running through their land. But that doesn’t sit well for the companies saying they are willing to go down the route of eminent domain, invoking a constitutional right granted to the government to expropriate private property for public use. 

Yet these pipelines would be controlled by private companies that would profit from the projects. That has led to legal battles, where some farmers are currently suing companies to prevent them from surveying their land without permission. 

Bill and Vicki Hulse, who own a farm in Northwest Iowa, are challenging the right for the Navigator CO2 pipeline to survey their land uninvited. Navigator took on the challenge and is trying to force granted access to the Hulse’s land. However, the Hulse’s are not the only landowners angered by the intrusions.

Rick DeGroote, a farmer in northeast Iowa, is one producer whose farm is on the proposed route for Navigator CO2 Ventures’ pipeline project. DeGroote, who owns the operation with his dad, said they were contacted by the company, but they were not interested in participating. However, that did not stop agents from Navigator from coming and trespassing on the land.

He said he was not able to prevent the agents from surveying the farmland because they were not on site and do not live where the pipeline is expected to run through. 

“A lot of these fields, they have been going on and surveying as they will,” he said. “They trespass at their free will. They just keep coming back.” 

Another frustration that DeGroote has is with legislators. He said lawmakers have been unwilling to take a stance. 

Iowa Secretary Mike Naig weighed in on the controversy during a debate hosted by Iowa Press, where he said the farmer needs to benefit from a pipeline being built on their property. 

“Landowners have every right to be fully and fairly compensated for the use of their land,” he said. Yet, he avoided taking a stance on eminent domain, saying that it’s a process that “needs to play out.” 

However, farmers aren’t waiting for it to play out. Companies are actively looking to use their land on their pipeline routes. Even as they seek to secure voluntary contracts, the use of eminent domain still disadvantages those who refuse to sign up, preventing a fair agreement. 

DeGroote also pointed out that the compensation from Navigator was not worth the investment for his operation. He said the company offered to pay about $6,000 per acre that the pipeline went across, plus any crop damages. He added that it is more than just about the money and that $50,000 per acre would not convince him to sign up. 

Beyond fair compensation, land is a finite resource required to farm, whether rented or owned. It is a substantial investment, especially for new and beginning farmers. The average price of cropland in the U.S. has risen 83% from 2008 to 2022.  

Related: Land: The Critical Investment for Young Farmers

The use of eminent domain adds to the limited availability of land. Large investment firms already have the funds to up-bid every new or small farmer in a land auction and drive up prices. Other investment funds exercising an already problematic expropriation is concerning. 

Right now, the U.S. and the world are in a carbon craze, attempting to profit from new opportunities. Some groups are moving in a direction that disadvantages individuals and families that have worked hard for what they possess. 

The companies seeking access to farmland should do so fairly and respectfully, leaving eminent domain out of the equation. 

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