Foes vow to fight if Bakken pipeline approved
Opponents of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline are pledging an all-out fight if Iowa regulators approve the project, launching a court battle and engaging in community activism that could result in some protesters trying to block construction crews.
The Iowa Utilities Board expects to make a decision in early March on a request by Dakota Access to build the crude pipeline through 18 Iowa counties. The board has been exploring possible terms and conditions for granting a state permit for the pipeline, and supporters and critics say it appears likely that Iowa regulators will approve plans for the project to proceed.
Former state legislator Ed Fallon said Monday he anticipates lawsuits and increased pressure upon the Legislature to clarify Iowa’s eminent domain law if the pipeline is approved. Fallon, an opponent of the project, walked the length of the 346-mile Iowa pipeline route last year to talk with landowners and other residents. He said.
Wallace Taylor of Cedar Rapids, chairman and legal counsel for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, said that if the utilities board approves the pipeline, his organization will challenge the decision in district court, arguing that there is insufficient evidence to support issuance of a state permit. In addition, he said he would argue that the pipeline permit would not meet requirements that it contributes to the public convenience and necessity, and that a private company should not be granted eminent domain rights to condemn private property for the pipeline in Iowa.
Opponents plan to meet from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Boone High School to discuss strategies to stop the pipeline from crossing the state. The participants will include members of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, 100 Grannies, and other organizations and individuals.
In addition, a series of workshops are planned from Feb. 27 to March 6 in Boone, Rockwell City, Des Moines and possibly other cities to discuss how Iowans can adopt so-called community rights ordinances in an effort to stop the pipeline, organizers said. Supporters of the concept say communities have adopted such ordinances in other states in efforts to block the use of hydraulic fracturing to explore for oil, as well as mining, water bottling, the establishment of large “factory” farms and dumping of urban sewage sludge on farmland.
“We have the inherent right to protect our lands, our people and our water when those charged with guarding our interests fail to do so,” said April Burch, an anti-pipeline activist from Boone. “Beyond the potentially catastrophic impacts of a pipeline leak or explosion, the time for investing billions of dollars of public money into fossil fuel infrastructure is over. It’s time to stand up and demand clean energy.”
Paul Cienfuegos, an activist from Portland, Ore., will lead the community rights workshops that claim local ordinances can prevail over state regulatory laws. He cites provisions in the Iowa Constitution that read: “All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of the people, and they have the right, at all times, to alter or reform the same, whenever the public good may require it.”
Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the Iowa attorney general’s office, said Iowa law does give counties authority to enact ordinances. But the local ordinances cannot be in conflict with state law, he added. In this case, the Iowa General Assembly has given the Iowa Utilities Board the authority to regulate pipelines, he said.
Don Tormey, a spokesman for the Iowa Utilities Board, declined to comment, citing the possibility of pending litigation.
Dakota Access is a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline would transport oil up to 570,000 barrels of oil daily in a 30-inch-diameter pipe from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill. Dakota Access officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Dan Gannon of Ankeny, whose family owns a farm near Mingo that has been cultivated for five generations since his ancestors arrived from Ireland, said Monday he is not sure what his family would do if the pipeline is approved. Until now, he has fought the pipeline every step, particularly because of objections to eminent domain. But he said he will reassess his family’s situation and consider all options, including a possible agreement with Dakota Access, if the pipeline is approved and eminent domain authority is granted.
“We want to do what is best to protect our family’s farm,” Gannon said.