The debate over eminent domain has been ongoing in Iowa, and efforts by private companies to build carbon dioxide pipelines across the state have brought a spotlight to the topic in the past couple years.
Eminent domain, or the right of government to utilize private property for public use, is not often enacted, but there are precedents in Iowa for the process being used. Drake University law professor Natalie Banta said in an interview with Iowa Public radio that those instances show there are areas where landowners may not be as protected as they think.
“Your property rights aren’t as absolute under the Constitution as perhaps you thought,” Banta said in the interview. “The real limitation on the power of eminent domain is political. It’s ensuring that your representatives don’t favor laws that take private property.”
A ruling in Kelo v. City of New London by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2005 helped set a precedent for the use of eminent domain in the state. The ruling allowed the city to utilize the land in question for public use due to the possible economic benefits it would bring to the community. The proposed project fell through and the land remained unused afterward.
After the decision, the Iowa legislature passed a bill in a special session restricting the use of eminent domain for economic development.
The decision prompted a number of states to initiate legislative reform to help curb eminent domain abuse according to eminent domain attorneys.
During the 2023 legislative session, the Iowa House had a bill introduced to put a pause on eminent domain in the state, but it was not heard in the Senate and did not make it into law. Some lawmakers cited the late timing of the bill as the reason for it not getting a vote, but opponents say that wasn’t the case.
“They just flat out chose not to do it,” said Bill Lehman, a Linn County landowner whose land would be affected by the proposed pipelines. “In essence, the bill is dead all because they chose not to call the meeting.”
Lehman said the possible use of eminent domain for the recent pipeline proposals would be in direct contradiction to comments made by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in a 2022 State of the Union rebuttal speech regarding government actions.
“You shouldn’t have to wake up every morning and worry about the next thing the government is going to do to you, your business or your children,” Reynolds said in the speech.
Lehman said that sentiment is not being followed.
“She keeps saying ‘let the process play out,’” he said. “The government is allowing this to take place and it’s wrong with how they are doing it.”
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration met in Des Moines May 31 regarding the proposed CO2 pipelines, where many landowners were calling for a moratorium until more safety reports can emerge, but no decisions had been made at press time.