Biden’s Carbon Pipeline — A Boondoggle for Big Oil Punishes Iowa Farmers

Published by Robert Kennedy Jr. on

For 40 years, I’ve stood among the leadership of the environmental movement crafting sensible market-based solutions for reducing our deadly addiction to oil and coal. I believe that the human-induced greenhouse effect is an existential threat to civilization, but I do not insist that other people ascribe to my belief. RFK, Jr.’s Policies + PoliticsRead More

For 40 years, I’ve stood among the leadership of the environmental movement crafting sensible market-based solutions for reducing our deadly addiction to oil and coal. I believe that the human-induced greenhouse effect is an existential threat to civilization, but I do not insist that other people ascribe to my belief.

Even Americans who don’t accept carbon-induced climate change should worry that our nation’s dependence on coal and oil has other obvious and unignorable costs — including poisoning our fisheries with mercury, sterilizing our lakes and streams, denuding our forests with acid rain, the mass-scale strip mining that is leveling the Appalachian mountains, and the petroleum addiction that keeps us embroiled in endless oil wars. Furthermore, the public finances this destruction with trillions in annual subsidies that allow coal, oil, and gas companies to maintain their competitive edge against cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient fuels. In 2022 the carbon industry globally collected a staggering $7 trillion in direct and indirect public subsidies.

But whether or not you believe in the greenhouse effect, no one can deny that powerful vested interests are now hijacking the climate emergency — as they do with every crisis — to shift wealth upward and impose totalitarian controls. 

A troubling poster child of this dynamic is one of the flagships of President Biden’s climate strategy — giant pipelines that purport to transport waste carbon from Iowa ethanol plants across six states to deep-well injection sites in Illinois and North Dakota. I have long denounced these sorts of “carbon capture storage and sequestration” projects as wasteful corporate welfare boondoggles that do little to reduce atmospheric carbon but serve instead to enrich billionaires and subsidize Big Carbon.

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This particular caper began when Congress passed the Clean Fuel Production tax credit in 2008 to incentivize carbon capture. President Trump expanded the law in 2018, as did President Biden in his 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation virtually flew through the carbon-captured Senate.

In actuality, the only thing certain to be captured by this project is taxpayer money. Section 45Q of Biden’s law could funnel $2 billion a year for 12 years from bilked taxpayers to Iowa ethanol titan Bruce Rastetter’s Summit pipeline and Archer Daniels Midland’s (ADM) Wolf pipeline (BlackRock’s Navigator Energy Services recently canceled a third proposed pipeline).

Ironically, carbon capture systems require energy-guzzling machinery to collect carbon from industrial processes, thereby increasing energy demand. Our government has already squandered $2.5 billion in worthless carbon capture “demonstration” projects and research since 2010 and has spent $12 billion last year alone on projects that don’t work.

ADM knows it’s all bunco. ADM’s 2017 $281 million Illinois pilot project captured only half of its yearly CO2 projections from the company’s Illinois ethanol plant and only a fraction of the project’s total ethanol emissions. Every carbon capture project ever built yielded similarly dismal results but that doesn’t stop corporate titans like Rastetter and ADM from milking these flimflams for obscene profits.

Mr. Rastetter and his confederates promise their captured carbon will remain trapped in deep geology for eternity. But historically, these wells are notorious for leaking long before eternity — killing wildlife and poisoning streams, rivers, drinking water, and aquifers, and potentially triggering earthquakes. This is why environmental groups like Food & Water Watch and Sierra Club oppose the project. 

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CO2, an invisible, odorless, colorless asphyxiant, is corrosive and requires expensive chrome-plated pipelines that can nevertheless breach with deadly effect. The risk from leaking CO2 for Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Dakota, and Minnesota farmers includes long-term brain damage and death. A 2020 rupture in Satartia, Mississippi sent 49 people to the hospital — at least one victim with brain damage from which he has never recovered — and stopped first responder rescue vehicles in their tracks as CO2 displaced the oxygen needed for their engines’ internal combustion.

In September, the South Dakota Public Utility Commission cited these dangers to deny Rastetter a permit to cross that state. Some 80% of Iowa voters oppose the pipelines and 22 towns and 46 of the Iowa counties through which the pipelines will run have issued angry denunciations to elected officials and the Iowa Public Utility Board. Nevertheless, the cash-stoked project lurches forward like a runaway locomotive.

Pipelines cause soil degradation and crop loss, and Iowa farmers worry that the project, in addition to endangering our health, will impact yields. But farmers who resist the money-fueled corporate juggernaut risk having their properties condemned and seized by a novel use of eminent domain — not for public necessity, as the Constitution requires — but to subsidize the carbon industry and further enrich billionaires. The purported “public need” of sequestering carbon cited by Rastetter et al. to justify this ugly precedent may also be a sham.

The endpoint of Rastetter’s Summit project is the Bakken Crude Oil fields, but North Dakota has denied the project a permit for deep-well injection. So why hasn’t that slowed the project’s momentum?

Opponents suspect that the real scheme here is not to bury the carbon forever, but rather to use it to enhance oil production in North Dakota’s declining Bakken fields and in the oil fields of South Illinois where the BlackRock and ADM pipes, coincidentally, terminate. Enhanced recovery uses pressure to force out every last drop of oil and gas in order to revive dying oil and gas production wells. One way to create that pressure is to pump in carbon dioxide. Carbon capture, as it turns out, is nearly always a scheme for propping up dirty energy. Currently, 95% of carbon capture and storage capacity is instead used for enhanced oil recovery

The projects are, therefore, paradoxically likely to increase net carbon emissions.

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The scam is greased by cashola. Mr. Rastetter contributed $164,000 to Gov. Kim Reynolds since 2015, making Rastetter likely her top contributor. That donation capped more than $1.6 million in legalized bribes to Iowa Republican lawmakers from Rastetter in the last 25 years, including $37,500 to Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver since 2019 and $35,000 to House Majority Leader Pat Grassley. 

Rastetter also gave $5,000 to Sen. Michael Bousselot, a former Summit employee who was chief of staff to former Gov. Terry Branstad, who now works for Summit, when Gov. Reynolds was Branstad’s lieutenant governor. Almost every top Republican leader in Iowa has cashed Rastetter’s checks. Add to this, generous political contributions from ADM. The people elected to serve Iowa are selling out the state.

In March of 2022, the Iowa Senate obligingly confirmed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ handpicked appointments to the public utility board. The new commissioners wasted no time in rushing through fast-track approvals and in vesting the pipeline companies with eminent domain power.

Sierra Club characterized the Iowa Utilities Board Summit CO2 Pipeline Hearing as a “Kangaroo Court” that violated “open meetings rules and the rights of both impacted landowners and the public to a fair and transparent hearing process” and lambasted the commissioners’ sweetheart collusion with Summit. Sierra Club also blasted Rastetter and BlackRock for using bullying tactics to intimidate, terrorize, and inconvenience farmers and other project opponents to clear the road to approval. 

Another fact should fuel our wariness that the “public need” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a fraudulent pretense: most of the Iowan officials who support the project have expressed their skepticism about human-induced climate change. If they don’t buy into the existence of climate change, why then would they have such enthusiasm for granting eminent domain to enable these costly projects?

If political leaders were really interested in battling dangers from changing climate, they would end the obscene subsidies to the carbon industry and spend the carbon capture money to help Iowa farmers to protect wetlands and forests and transition to regenerative agriculture.

Originally published by Newsweek.

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