IUB Chair: Bakken Pipeline Decision Coming in March

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A message on a semi trailer in a field between Ames and Des Moines protests Dakota Access LLC's plans to use eminent domain to bury a crude oil pipeline across the properties of unwilling landowners. Photo: Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

The Iowa Utilities Board plans to make a final decision on whether to approve Dakota Access LLC’s petition for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit on March 9 or 10, board chair Geri Huser said at a public meeting held Friday afternoon to deliberate on the petition at IUB HQ in Des Moines.

Before the board went into closed session near the meeting’s end, Huser announced that its three members would return afterward in order to recess until March 9. On that date, she said, “It is our intent to come in and have a proposed order that all the board can review” in another closed session to work through any lingering issues before finalizing the decision that day or the next.

The meeting — which the public was allowed to attend but not provide comment during because of a previous procedural deadline — was the fifth the board has held since the beginning of last week to discuss issues relating to the petition filed by the company in January 2015. If approved, the pipeline would transport the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil each day from North Dakota oil shales and through South Dakota and 18 Iowa counties before reaching its destination in Patoka, Illinois.

At the meeting, the board members discussed requests made by various stakeholders: the depth at which the pipeline should lie under topsoil; additional stipulations about easements; an extension on the amount of time Dakota Access would provide landowners “point of contact” access; a request by the Iowa Farm Bureau to specify in the permit a state law that would hold Dakota Access responsible to compensate private landowners for all damages caused by the pipeline’s installation.

Tensions at the meetings may have been higher last week: On Wednesday, a motion by Iowa resident and pipeline foe Kriss Wells was filed requesting that IUB member Nick Wagner be recused from the deliberations because, during the board’s Feb. 11 meeting, he “indicated … that he was resistant to the recognition of Climate Change because of his fear that it would damage his ability to be successful in running for political office.” That, Wells wrote, called into question Wagner’s impartiality. (See the embedded documents below.)

“The issue of Climate Change has been raised by multiple parties in this hearing process. It was designated as an issue by the board in their outline for hearing briefs. It is a critical issue for the future of our environment,” the motion said.

The Informer was unable to determine Wagner’s exact statement last week — IUB spokesman Don Tormey said the board doesn’t currently have the technology to archive recordings of meetings, and we were not present at last week’s meetings. But the motion was supported by the state chapter of the Sierra Club, which claimed Wagner made a similar comment on Feb. 8 as well. (The Sierra Club, the board noted Friday, has also requested that an environmental impact statement be required of Dakota Access.)

This Thursday, Wagner responded via an order issued by the IUB denying Wells’ motion. The motion, Wagner said, before adding that he’d never put personal ambitions ahead of the public good, “alleges that I am reluctant to recognize climate change because of concern for my potential political future. I assume this is intended to be an allegation that I have a ‘significant personal interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the case.’

Wagner — a former state representative appointed to the IUB by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2013 — said the assumed allegation missed the point, which “was that regardless of whether I believe climate change is caused by using fossil fuels, I believe climate change is not entitled to great weight in our deliberations in this proceeding. Fossil fuels are consumed because there is demand in the marketplace and granting or denying a permit in this proceeding will not materially affect the demand for oil products.”

Wagner’s argument that fossil fuels would continue to be consumed either way was echoed after Friday’s meeting by Chad Carter, vice president and business representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 234 in Des Moines. “We need to maybe lower [fossil fuel consumption] but let’s come up with a way first,” he said. “We can’t just stop it.”

The project, Carter predicted, would provide 300-400 jobs for the union’s members in Iowa during its construction. “It’s going to be huge for our membership,” he added. The union is active in most Iowa counties — of the 18 the pipeline would cross, the only one among them it doesn’t represent is Lee County in the southeastern corner of the state.

When the IUB arrives at its decision, it won’t be final until a written order is officially issued and then submitted to the board’s electronic filing system.


Kriss Wells’ motion:

 

Sierra Club Iowa Chapter statement in support of motion:

 

Keith Puntenney, Private Property Rights Coalition attorney representing landowners, statement in support of motion:

 

IUB response:

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.