Hundreds rally in Pierre against eminent domain for carbon pipelines

By: - July 6, 2023 3:32 pm

Landowners Mark Lapka, left, and Jared Bossly (holding petitions with about 2,000 signatures) speak at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre on July 6, 2023, demanding a prohibition against carbon capture pipeline companies gaining access to land against a landowner’s will. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

PIERRE,  South Dakota — About 250 people descended on the South Dakota State Capitol on Thursday, demanding a prohibition against carbon capture pipeline companies gaining access to land against a landowner’s will.

Lawmakers, landowners and concerned citizens from across the political spectrum called on Republican Gov. Kristi Noem to call a special legislative session to address the issue. She did not attend the rally.

“Governor Noem, you say you stand with us,” said rally speaker Ed Fischbach, an Aberdeen-area farmer whose land is near a proposed pipeline route. “We need your actions to speak louder than your words.”

The rally comes amid a heated public debate over the expansion of carbon capture pipeline infrastructure.

Two pipelines that would pass through eastern South Dakota and multiple other states, including Nebraska, are designed to transport captured carbon dioxide produced at ethanol plants to underground storage sites in North Dakota and Illinois. The aim is to combat climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere, where it traps heat. The projects are eligible for billions of dollars in federal tax credits, and could allow ethanol producers to sell their products in places with restrictive emissions standards.

However, critics argue that the use of a court process called “eminent domain” — which one of the pipeline companies is already pursuing, to gain land access from dozens of unwilling landowners — is a violation of property rights.

“This is going to set precedents,” said Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, in a speech to the crowd. “And if we don’t stop this now, what’s that going to mean for eminent domain for private gain in the future?”

Some attendees wore T-shirts that read “No eminent domain” and held signs asking “Gov. Noem, what if this was your land?” Some argued the use of eminent domain by carbon capture pipelines is improper, because carbon pipelines do not deliver a product for the public as some other eminent domain projects do, such as crude oil pipelines, water pipelines and electrical power lines.

Collin Duprel, who ran unsuccessfully as a Libertarian for Congress last year, told the crowd that lawmakers who failed to show up for the rally will have a tough time getting reelected.

“There’s a lot of people who are missing,” Duprel said. “They don’t deserve to be in office anymore. We’re drawing a line in the sand, today.”

State Rep. Aaron Aylward, R-Harrisburg, chair of the South Dakota Freedom Caucus, said in a press release he is committed to fighting for legislative action.

“Governor Noem: Our land and property rights are under attack, and the time for action is now,” Aylward said. “By declaring a man-made emergency and convening a special legislative session, you can put an end to this assault on citizens’ rights.”

The governor can declare a special session, but so can two-thirds of the Legislature.

At the end of the rally, affected landowner Jared Bossly and state Rep. Karla Lems, R-Canton, delivered about 2,000 petition signatures to the governor’s office, calling for a special session.

Noem has not addressed protesters’ calls to declare a special session but tweeted last week, “If the Legislature wants to call themselves into special session to change the law, I look forward to reviewing what they send to my desk.”

There was a bill to prohibit eminent domain for carbon pipelines during last winter’s legislative session. The bill passed the House but failed in a Senate committee.

House Majority Leader Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, did not attend the rally. He said in a statement that while he “led the charge for farmers and ranchers during this year’s session,” unless “we get agreement with the Senate on some proposals, we shouldn’t call a special session and neither should the governor. It would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and legislator time.”

“For my part, I’ll be spending the next couple months working with senators to gather consensus on protecting landowners. I hope we get the job done,” Mortenson said.

The carbon capture pipeline company using eminent domain, Summit Carbon Solutions, and its proponents have defended the process as a necessary step for ensuring the future of corn-based ethanol. They point out that the company has already negotiated easements with about 70% of impacted landowners in the state.

Summit Carbon Solutions did not reply to a request for comment on the calls for a special session. Both Summit and Navigator CO2 Ventures, the other company proposing a carbon pipeline through South Dakota, have permit hearings scheduled later this summer with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

This article first appeared in the South Dakota Searchlight, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network.

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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.