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Navigator VP from Texas Claims CO2 Pipeline Won’t Affect Property Values; SD Legislator Rebuts with Local Reality

Navigator VP of engineering Stephen Lee offered this meaningless hypothetical to the Public Utilities Commission in support of his company’s proposed carbon dioxide pipeline:

An executive for the proposed Navigator project said Monday that he would purchase a home along a carbon-dioxide pipeline route, especially if it’s one he designed.

Navigator vice president of engineering Stephen Lee made his comments during day five of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission hearing on the company’s permit application [Bob Mercer, “Navigator VP Says He’d Live Next to a CO2 Pipeline,” KELO-TV, 2023.07.31].

But Lee isn’t going to live next to this pipeline. He’s not going to move from Texas to South Dakota and buy a house on his company’s pipeline route. He’s certainly not going to direct his engineers to run Navigator’s next CO2 pipeline through his backyard. His hypothetical doesn’t change the reality for South Dakota landowners whom his company may force to give up their land rights and live with this project.

Lee also misrepresented the harm his company’s project poses to actual South Dakotans’ property values and health:

Lee said that proximity to a CO2 line probably isn’t the decisive factor in choices that the public makes about where to live.

Asked whether he believed a CO2 leak would affect property values above or near the pipeline, Lee said, “I do not.” He said CO2 has “zero long-term environmental” effects on a property’s usefulness [Mercer, 2023.07.31].

Notice Lee’s clever use of the term “long-term” to qualify his answer. Sure, carbon dioxide is on everyone’s property all the time, so it doesn’t really affect a property’s long-term usefulness. But when a carbon dioxide pipeline leaks and saturates the air with CO2, the property’s short-term usefulness goes to zero, and people start passing out.

Pipeline proximity is only one of multitudinous factors that may affect where people choose to live. But if a pipeline tilts the calculus of a minority of potential buyers, that will statistically affect the market value of the property. Research shows that pipeline incidents in the U.S. from 2010 through 2020 dampened housing prices within 1,000 meters by 6%. With or without leaks, pipelines’ mere proximity drags down property values.

Rookie Representative Karla Lems (R-16/Canton) told the PUC yesterday that the mere prospect of a pipeline is dampening her local real estate market:

Lems said she tried to sell at auction some agricultural-zoned property in Lincoln County that carry what’s known as ‘housing eligibility.’ In Lincoln County, that eligibility would allow a house to be built on each 40-acre tract. The property was withdrawn from the market after attracting bids that were lower-priced than she expected.

Meanwhile, other properties without the prospect of what she described as a hazardous pipeline sold for higher amounts. Lens said she concluded that a potential CO2 pipeline hurt the market value of her properties [Bob Mercer, “Landowners Testify Against Navigator CO2 Project,” KELO-TV, 2023.08.01].

Lems was challenged by labor union lawyer William Taylor, who said pipelines run under higher-priced housing areas in Sioux Falls, but Taylor’s claim misses the point that those areas’ houses would fetch even higher prices if they didn’t have to prospect of a pipeline rupture dragging them down a few percentage points.

The PUC hears more on the Navigator application today, starting at 8 a.m. Central.