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A Different Kind of Pipeline Project Scrambles Midwest Politics

Two proposals that would transport carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to underground storage have led to a high-stakes economic and environmental fight.

Two proposals that would transport carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to underground storage have led to a high-stakes economic and environmental fight.

 

Now high-dollar pipeline fights are happening again, but with a twist.

Instead of oil, these projects would carry millions of tons of carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to be injected into underground rock formations rather than dispersed as pollutants in the air.

What is playing out is a very different kind of environmental battle, a huge test not just for farmers and landowners but for emerging technologies promoted as ways to safely store planet-warming carbon.

The technology has generated support from powerful politicians in both parties, as well as major farming organizations, ethanol producers and some environmental groups.

Supporters, including some farmers who have signed agreements to have a pipeline buried on their property, frame the ideas being proposed by two companies as a win for both the economy and environment. They say the pipelines, boosted by federal tax credits, including from the Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden signed last year, would lower carbon emissions while aiding the agricultural economy through continued ethanol production.

But opponents are concerned about property rights and safety, and are not convinced of the projects’ claimed environmental benefits. They have forged unlikely alliances that have blurred the region’s political lines, uniting conservative farmers with liberal urbanites, white people with Native Americans, small-government Republicans with climate-conscious Democrats.

The result, both sides agree, is a high-stakes economic and environmental struggle pitting pipeline advocates against opponents who honed their political and legal strategies over nearly 15 years of fighting the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which has been in operation since 2017, and the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was never built.

There is no question that technology exists to remove carbon from industrial sites and to transport and store it underground. Less clear: Is carbon capture really an effective counterweight to the overheating planet? And, if so, at what cost?

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