Summit Carbon Solutions reapplies for denied construction permits

Market to Market | Clip
Sep 15, 2023 | 7 min

For more than a year, a group of landowners and activists have been pushing back against the permitting and construction of the Summit Carbon Solutions CO2 pipeline. If it gets the greenlight, the project will stretch across 2,000 miles of five Midwestern states.


Tim Baughman, Farmer - Denison, Iowa: “When will Summit realize that we don’t want their pipeline scam.”

For more than a year, a group of landowners and activists have been pushing back against the permitting and construction of the Summit Carbon Solutions CO2 pipeline. If it gets the greenlight, the project will stretch across 2,000 miles of five Midwestern states.

Tim Baughman, Farmer - Denison, Iowa: “No eminent domain for private gain. No eminent domain for private gain.”

As testimony continued this week over the 672 miles of the Iowa portion of Summit’s Midwest Carbon Express, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission denied the Iowa-based company’s request for a permit.

voice of Kristen N. Edwards. Staff Attorney. South Dakota Public Utilities Commission -13:15 “Staff filed the motion to deny the permit after it became abundantly and undeniably clear that Summit cannot obtain a permit at this time. And it makes little sense to go through the motions of a three week evidentiary hearing and all that would follow without a compliant route that can be permitted.”

Edwards says she did not perceive the denial as the end of the road for the 469 mile portion of the pipeline. A move by Summit to drop a request for an exemption to recently changed county ordinances put them in a position for that denial - some of those county rules changed in the last 6 months. 

In a statement from Summit, the company says it will refile for the permit. Summit officials also say 73 percent of landowners in the Mount Rushmore state have signed voluntary easements for the pipeline. 

Monte Shaw is the Executive Director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry advocacy group. 

Monte Shaw, Executive Director, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association: “I'm not an expert in the South Dakota law or process, but obviously we're disappointed. Didn't even get a hearing that seems a little odd to me. I don’t really know why they denied it, but you know, hopefully, it's something that can be addressed and then we can find a path forward.” 

Summit is already appealing an early August denial of their permit by the North Dakota Public Service Commission. The three member panel says the plan for the 320 miles of pipeline failed to meet its burden of proof to show the project will produce minimal adverse effects on the environment and upon the welfare of the citizens of North Dakota. The Peace Garden State is the final destination for sequestering the C02 gathered along the route. A spokesperson for the company says they have 70 percent of the easements needed to begin construction. 

In Minnesota, a short section of the 150 miles of pipe was approved for an environmental impact study. The Minnesota-based rural environmental advocacy group CURE asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to defer any action indefinitely due to the denial of Summit’s permit in North Dakota. Depending on the completion of several studies and a public comment period, the Minnesota PUC could decide on whether or not to issue a route permit as early as next summer.

In Nebraska, the carbon capture company is negotiating with each county where the 320 miles of pipeline would run. A recent press release shows 50 percent of the land owners have signed easements. 

According to Summit, the pipeline will carry 18 million tons of CO2 annually, and pull the equivalent of 2.6 million vehicles off the road while lowering the carbon footprint of the 30 ethanol plants participating in the project.

Summit, and other carbon capture companies like it, are in position to receive a portion of funds from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The Act provides the largest climate-related investment in U.S. history, with close to $370 billion dedicated to renewable energy. Included in the package are tax incentives to sequester carbon. To take full advantage of those tax incentives, construction has to begin by the end of 2025.

The 2022 IRA raised the tax credit for storing carbon underground to $85 per ton. With Summit planning on sequestering up to 18 million tons of CO2 annually, they would be eligible for $1.5 billion in tax credits each year. The entire project is expected to cost $4.5 billion dollars.

There are still multiple concerns among the groups objecting to the Midwest Carbon Express. 

Steve Kenkel, Chairman, Shelby County, Iowa Board of Supervisors: “I don’t know about you, I don’t want my grandkids someday, if these C02 pipelines are in an unzoned maze within my county, jeopardizing their way of life to wonder ‘what the hell was Grampa thinking’.”

These range from soil compaction in farm fields to pipeline ruptures. 

In response, Summit’s Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Powell says there is a schedule for inspections of the line to stay ahead of any problems. The company is also talking with local fire departments about what to do in the event of a line break.

The Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental advocacy group, has expressed worry the CO2 will be used for fracking which could put more oil in play and increase greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Powell has stated there are no plans to use the sequestered carbon at this time. 

The main sticking point for landowners along the route remains the potential use of eminent domain. This week, the Sierra Club’s attorney in Iowa asked Micah Rorie, Summit’s Vice President of Land and Right of Way, if there was any undue pressure being put on landowners.

Wallace Taylor, Sierra Club Attorney: Do you think at some point, maybe, they feel like, you’ve just warn them down and they’re just going to sign and easement?”

Micah Rorie RoryVice President of Land & ROW, Summit Carbon Solutions: “So, I understand your question. I find it almost insulting to an Iowa landowner to think that would happen. This is their ground, noone’s disputing that. They’re extremely educated about their ground. They’re mindful people.”

Testimony in Iowa is expected to be completed next week. According to an IUB spokesperson, a final decision on a permit will be made at some point after that but there was no speculation on any kind of a timeline.

For Market to Market, I’m David Miller.