Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Brian Bengs would like to bring the controversial carbon dioxide pipelines into his campaign against Republican Senator John Thune. While Senator Thune seems to think farmers can make some money sequestering their CO2, he hasn’t said much about his Iowa Republican friends’ plan to seize land via eminent domain to lay pipes from ethanol plants in the five-state area to a CO2 burial site in North Dakota. Candidate Bengs, however, is ready to stand with landowners and, if sent to Washington, work on legislation to protect their property rights from this specific land grab:
In the highly controversial 2005 decision Kelo vs. City of New London, Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court declared use of a state’s eminent domain power to take private property and transfer it to another private entity a valid “public use” if it results in “expected public benefits.” Bengs believes that the maximum use of public property and existing public right-of-way easements for projects like this is the best approach. If elected, Bengs is committed to sponsoring legislation to disqualify carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects that use eminent domain to secure private property easements amounting to more than 10% of the total project length within a single state [Brian Bengs, campaign press release, posted by KSFY, 2022.09.23].
Note that Bengs is already offering compromise. He’s not calling for a total ban on eminent domain for CO2 pipelines. He’s setting a high bar: Summit Carbon Solutions and other developers would have to get voluntary easements for 90% of their route before they could force the holdouts along the remaining tenth or less of the route to surrender their land rights.
That’s still not the full and forceful rejection of the flawed Kelo decision that I’d like to see: the CO2 pipelines applying for permits are private projects, open to private contractors, seeking private profit. Eminent domain should only be used to transfer property rights from private citizens to genuine and direct public use, and even then only sparingly. One rich guy’s scheme to enrich himself and his friends on federal tax credits and force private citizens to surrender their property rights to help him swipe their tax dollars is not what the Fifth Amendment intends.
But Bengs is working to pull this controversial issue into the Senate debate. The move makes sense: a lot of the landowners targeted by Summit are good Thune/Trump Republicans who usually wouldn’t consider checking “D” on their ballots. Bengs sees a chance to break the rural partisan myopia with a promise to fight for real rights under immediate threat.
Now, tell me this: can we Democrats support a national restriction on eminent domain for carbon dioxide pipelines while opposing a national restriction on abortion?