• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

A chance to be heard

Kaufmann stands strong on property rights
Iowa House Representative Bobby Kaufmann visits with Dr. Gary Weinman during a Jan. 31 listening post at the Solon Public Library. (photo by Lori Lindner)

SOLON– It’s a waiting game for the Iowa legislature as new bills are brought into committee, refined and passed from one congressional body to the other and back again before final votes are tallied.
Iowa House Representative Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) took the time to update the public on some of those bills currently in progress during a Jan. 31 listening post at the Solon Public Library.
Prominent on the public’s radar, as well as Kaufmann’s, is the state’s position on the proposed Rock Island Clean Line Energy project that would run overhead high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines across the state of Iowa from east to west. Touted as a renewable energy project because the energy transmitted will come from wind-generated sources, the Rock Island Clean Line website indicates the benefits to Iowans include a way to export its wind energy and job creation in the wind equipment industry.
However, Kaufmann contends, the Clean Line will not allow any Iowa company or utility cooperative to access the energy it transmits.
“No one can tap into that wind energy,” said Kaufmann.
Equally concerning to Kaufmann is the project’s huge potential for the exercise of eminent domain– the power to obtain private property in exchange for fair market value. While the lines would be overhead rather than underground, they still need to be suspended by the large towers known as “cowboys,” which would be installed mostly on private property.
“You’ve got a 10,000-acre swath of ground the clean line will have direction over, and of that, currently only 1,500 acres have been agreed to,” Kaufmann explained. “So you are going to have the request for several thousand acres of Iowa farmland to be forcibly taken and to be forever held by a private Texas company.”
Kaufmann has been working to find a compromise so the energy line could still be built and Iowa wind energy exported without “trampling over such a large portion of people’s property rights,” he said.
One audience member asked how similar were the Clean Line Energy project and the Bakken pipeline– the crude oil pipeline that would cut across 343 miles of land in 18 Iowa counties.
“The Bakken Pipeline and the Rock Island Clean Line should pick out baby names and choose a honeymoon destination, because the two issues just got married,” said Kaufmann. “You’ve got two different companies that want to ship two versions of energy. They’re both private Texas companies and both want to ship a product out of our state without allowing anyone in our state to tap into it.”
The process for both companies is the same; they must apply to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to become a franchise– not a difficult step– and the IUB will then determine if the company will be granted eminent domain rights.
Kaufmann said when pro-environmental groups advocated for the Rock Island Clean Line as a sustainable energy project, he warned them that allowing a private Texas company to have condemnation rights to transport clean energy would set a precedent for one day allowing a private company to ship “dirty” energy.
“And lo and behold, here comes the Bakken Pipeline,” said Kaufmann. “I’m a purist when it comes to property rights. I am all for business and for shipping energy and all the goods we as a state ship, but not on the backs and at the expense of private property rights.”
The IUB is a three-person, governor-appointed board that regulates rates and services of energy and communications utilities and supervises pipelines and the transmission, sale and distribution of electrical current. Since Clean Line’s notice of its intent to establish the HVDC lines across Iowa, the IUB has considered hundreds of communications, motions and objections from consumer advocacy groups and individuals. As of Tuesday, Feb. 17, the IUB had not issued a decision on granting the company franchise status.
However, the IUB did return a decision last week on Rock Island Clean Line’s request to consider issues associated with eminent domain in a separate hearing.
Under Clean Line’s motion, the first hearing would be to consider whether the company has met Iowa’s legal requirement that the project serves a public use.
The second hearing would be specifically related to the exercise of eminent domain. The company argued that since a franchise has not been granted, there might be no reason to survey, map, submit and examine details of each affected parcel of land.
“Clean Line submits this process would require the expenditure of significant funds by Clean Line and would also require significant intrusions on the landowners and tenants, all of which will have been unnecessary if the Board decides to deny Clean Line’s petitions for franchises,” the document reads.
Clean Line also argued there would be significant time savings and convenience to eminent domain objectors if the board agreed to split the hearings.
The IUB denied Clean Line’s request, stating that the benefits of separate hearings to Clean Line were evident, but it would potentially diminish property owners’ right to due process.
Kaufmann in a release issued last Friday praised the IUB’s decision.
“The Iowa Utilities Board took a significant step in protecting Iowa landowners who face having their land pilfered by out of state corporations,” Kaufmann said. “I am pleased that they did the right thing and stood with Iowans on this issue.”
As of last Friday, Clean Line had acquired over 200 out of approximately 1,500 easements required. The project would not impact Johnson County properties, but in neighboring Cedar County 130 landowners would be affected.
Kaufmann said the state legislature’s overall view on eminent domain in these two cases was similar to stance on any policy; it depends on individual lawmakers’ political ideologies.
“There are members of each party that are so pro-wind energy they don’t care about property rights. There are people who are so pro-oil they don’t care about property rights,” said Kaufmann. “But I would say a good majority (of lawmakers), if it were to come up for a vote, would want both of these companies to proceed but only under circumstances where they could find a path among willing sellers.”
Kaufmann said he hopes to work with Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) on the Government Oversight Committee to create a major property rights reform package that would include greater restrictions on the power to exercise eminent domain.
Further, Kaufmann said, he will push for legislation that broadens the decision making power in major utilities projects to the state’s elected representatives.
“I’m not criticizing any member of the Utilities Board, but these members really have no accountability to anybody back home, other than to the Governor who appointed them,” said Kaufmann. “With decisions of this magnitude, I think it’s important that they consult legislature.”