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PUC Cites County Ordinances to Delay Summit CO2 Pipeline

Fellow Democrats, liberals, and other sensible people regularly ask me what grounds for hope remain for good government in South Dakota. How about this:

A company run by big, rich Iowa Republicans and lobbied for in South Dakota by the now-former chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party walks into the Republican-controlled Public Utilities Commission and asks for a permit to build a carbon dioxide pipeline project that will drain water reserves and destroy landowner rights but help the Iowans collect big government subsidies and enrich the powerful ethanol lobby and Governor Kristi Noem, and the Public Utilities Commission tells them no.

The PUC had scheduled three weeks to hear Summit Carbon Solutions’ application for its plan to pipe CO2 across South Dakota from ethanol plants here and in Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, up to an underground sequestration site in North Dakota. The PUC took maybe a couple hours to deal with just one issue: their own staff lawyers’ recommendation that the PUC reject the application due to Summit’s inability to comply with four counties’ zoning regulations, which the PUC declared last week in its rejection of another CO2 pipeline application from Navigator CO2 Ventures it would not overrule. All three commissioners agreed there was no way Summit could overcome that fatal roadblock in three weeks.

Commissioner Chris Nelson tried to throw Summit a lifeline by proposing an indefinite extension:

“Everybody’s put a tremendous amount of work into this, and it doesn’t seem to me to be fair to throw all of that out with a motion to deny. Summit is saying with time they can cure these deficiencies. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m willing to give them the opportunity,” Nelson said [Bob Mercer, “Analysis: Summit Denial Might Not Last as a Win,” KELO-TV, 2023.09.11].

But Commissioner Gary Hanson and substitute Commissioner Josh Haeder weren’t having it, and Nelson succumbed:

“We need a clean process here,” Hanson countered. “The applicant had a responsibility to be ready when they first came. Obviously, they were not.”

Nelson’s substitute motion failed 2-1. He then announced he would back denial. “As I look at the two sections of statute that we’ve been working on this morning, we could go through three weeks and we would have, we would have a lot of this issue resolved,” Nelson said.

But at the end of those three weeks, Nelson continued, he still didn’t see a way to get past section 1 of 49-41B-22 — the law requiring the proposed facility comply with all applicable laws and rules — or the last sentence of 49-41B-28, the law that says without a pre-emption finding by the commission, no route shall be designated which violates local land-use zoning, or building rules, or regulations, or ordinances.

“And so I’m going to support the motion, and we’ll start clean,” Nelson said [Mercer, 2023.09.11].

The radical right-wing South Dakota Freedom Caucus certainly sees hope in the PUC’s swift decision. The Freedom Caucus is claiming credit for the Public Utilities Commission’s “affirming the constitutional rights and property of the people of South Dakota“:

The South Dakota Freedom Caucus has been at the forefront of this battle, actively opposing the use of eminent domain by private companies. On Friday, September 8th, the Caucus sent out nearly 10,000 robocalls to 18 legislative districts. The robocalls encouraged constituents to call their Representative or Senator to demand a special legislative session aimed at addressing the use of eminent domain by private entities and other related private property rights issues.

Vice-Chair Representative Tony Randolph added, “This decision reaffirms what we’ve been saying all along: private companies should not have the power to seize South Dakotan land for their own gain. We will continue to stand with our constituents and fight for their rights.” [South Dakota Freedom Caucus, press release, 2023.09.11].

The PUC reaffirmed no such thing. The PUC did not say that Summit cannot continue eminent domain proceedings it has launched against over 150 South Dakota landowners. The PUC did not overrule the law and case precedent that says (wrongly) that private companies may seize land through eminent domain. And the Freedom Caucus’s robocalls have not secured a Special Session. Yesterday’s decision certainly doesn’t affirm the Freedom Caucus’s influence. The only glancing way in which it affirms property rights is in its affirmation that counties may still enact zoning ordinances that reflect the interests of local constituents, and even on that point, the preeningly conservative Freedom Caucus has to acknowledge that it is fighting for government regulation that can block capitalist enterprise.

Dakota Rural Action, which is more interested in people than politics, more accurately thanks the PUC for standing up for local control:

“We are so grateful to the PUC commissioners for standing up for their constituents!  They made the right decision for the future of South Dakota.  We are also thankful to them for upholding our county ordinances!” said Joy Hohn, and impacted landowner and DRA member from Minnehaha County.

This decision by the Public Utilities Commission is another staunch victory for the importance and power of local government. It is also a clear repudiation of Summit Carbon Solution’s attempt to bully their way through the permitting process by threatening counties with lawsuits if they took up ordinances  and asking the PUC to preempt those ordinances without submitting any evidence that they had attempted to comply with them. Notably, the point was raised through Commission questions that Summit has initiated condemnation lawsuits against one hundred and sixty landowners, as well as four counties.

“This is a great day for people over big money. Thankfully our commissioners and staff followed the law and denied Summit’s permit. It is a great day for the people of South Dakota!” said Ed Fischbach, an impacted landowner and DRA board member from Spink County [Dakota Rural Action, press release, received by DFP 2023.09.11].

As Bob Mercer points out, the PUC ruled yesterday not on the merits of the carbon dioxide pipeline but on this one local-control roadblock which may be overcome with a new application, a new map, and big economics:

Don’t be surprised when Summit applies again — and don’t be surprised if the next version of the pipeline is more ambitious, with a new leg to serve the Gevo aircraft-fuels plant that is planned at Lake Preston.

Governor Kristi Noem has touted the Gevo facility as the “largest economic investment in South Dakota history” and her lieutenant governor, Larry Rhoden, attended the September 15, 2022, groundbreaking. Likewise, Summit has noted the Gevo project on its website.

Nor would it be a surprise if the commission eventually approves Summit’s next application. Because, in the words spoken Monday by one of Summit’s attorneys, Brett Koenecke, carbon capture is “the future of agriculture” [Mercer, 2023.09.11].

Summit Carbon Solutions refiled in North Dakota after North Dakota’s Public Service Commission rejected their initial application; Summit press-released immediately after its PUC rejection yesterday that it will do the same in South Dakota.

If we can get South Dakota Republicans to say no once to a big corporate Republican project, we can get them to say no again. But those big corporate Republicans will keep asking, so folks who like land rights and local control will have to keep fighting.


  1. P. Aitch 2023-09-12 07:55

    Pipelines are penis substitutes for poorly endowed, rich, white greed merchants looking to BOHICA South Dakota farmers. Hurrah for this decision.

  2. sx123 2023-09-12 08:54

    I am not against the pipeline per se, as it can be made safe enough, but i am fiercly against eminent domain, esp by private conpanies, and I believe the pipeline is just plain goofy.

    You want someone’s land? You keep upping the offer until they sell. That’s how capitalism works. They still won’t sell? Too bad. That’s how capitalism works.

    You want to reduce carbon? Quit pulling it out of the ground and throwing it into the air. Both ethonal and petro usage take carbon from the ground and throw it into the air.

  3. sx123 2023-09-12 09:02

    And before the biologists out there get after me, I know the carbon from plants comes from CO2 in the air, BUT, corn = natural gas (fertilizer source) and that comes from the ground.

  4. Korey Jackson 2023-09-12 19:59

    Assuming Summit Carbon Solutions reroutes and submits a new application for SD PUC approval, which complies with all county ordinances in effect on the date of their application.

    After that date:
    What is to prevent a different county from enacting new ordinances which require further rerouting?
    or one of the counties to further adjust their ordinances or zoning regulations?

  5. P. Aitch 2023-09-12 22:45

    Thanks for the article, Tara. It’s a true dichotomy, though. The Sons Of Liberty have a near zero credibility rating from Media Boas Fact Check however the articles referenced within (from the Mitchell Republic) have a high credibility rating and a very damning effect on Governor Noem’s claim that she didn’t shut down South Dakota during COVID. I mean, we all were there and we all remember how in the first 30 days she shut down numerous parts of the government and told businesses to close. After that, when she realized she didn’t know what to do, she chose to sit on her ass and label her actions “supporting small government.”
    Good article for exposing the charade she’s dancing around America with.

  6. DaveFN 2023-09-12 22:47

    P. Aitch is really into penises and their substitutes or he wouldn’t be drawing attention to them and himself in such a way.

  7. jerry 2023-09-13 02:54

    DaveFN, funny, I don’t see that. Maybe it’s actually you….

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-09-13 06:26

    Korey, I’d say other counties are free to enact ordinances in response to the possibility that Summit might reroute toward them.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-09-13 06:28

    Say, Governor Noem hasn’t made comment about this victory for the landowners she said she has always stood with. You’d think she would want to be seen celebrating with them, congratulating them for this victory, even if it is temporary, and praising the PUC for doing the right thing. Why hasn’t she commented on this pipeline rejection?

  10. P. Aitch 2023-09-13 06:39

    @DaveFN – Are you OK, Happy Camper? You sound a little angry. What can I do to help?

  11. R.+Kolbe 2023-09-13 09:33

    I find PUC Com Hansen s vote encouraging. Some twenty yrs ago then S F Mayor KILLED the Oil Spill committees efforts to prevent a spill in the aquifer. We recommended Double Walled transmission pipelines over the aquifer that supplies Sioux Falls.
    This was to be the fine for a 400,000
    Gallon petroleum spill a 1/2 mile east of
    Renner S D.
    The committee was made of
    S D Attorney General office
    G. F and Parks
    Minnehaha Conservation District
    East DAK Water Development District
    Minn Co Commission
    and as an after thought, because it involved the aquifer, city of S F.
    The spill was in the county well north of the S F city limits.
    Maybe in his older age Commissioner
    Hansen has had an Epiphany. It’s about time!

  12. P. Aitch 2023-09-13 10:57

    For DaveFN or Happy Camper or CAH or whomever is posting under that name and is curious about my use of “penises” as metaphors.
    I’m curious why I do it also. Let’s ask my assistant, then.
    She’s really good at research. 😊
    -The use of penises as metaphors by some men can have several psychological explanations. It is important to note that people’s motivations for using metaphors can vary, and these explanations may not apply to all situations or individuals. Here are a few possible psychological reasons:

    1. Symbolic representation of power and dominance: The penis is often associated with notions of power, dominance, and masculinity in many cultures. Using it as a metaphor might serve as a way for some men to assert their authority or affirm their perceived dominance in social or professional contexts. By employing this metaphor, individuals may aim to communicate their superiority or control over others.

    2. Expression of confidence and self-assuredness: Some men might use penis metaphors as a means to convey their confidence, assertiveness, or bravado. Associating their abilities or achievements with a metaphorical representation of strength and masculinity can serve as a way to bolster their self-esteem and project a sense of competence.

    3. Humor and playfulness: The use of penis metaphors can also be driven by a desire to be humorous, playful, or engage in light-hearted banter. Penises are often considered taboo or risqué topics, and using metaphors related to them can elicit laughter or create a sense of amusement among peers.

    4. Subconscious sexual expression: The choice to use penis metaphors might also stem from an unconscious desire to express or explore sexuality. The use of sexual metaphors can allow individuals to indirectly communicate ideas or desires related to sexual experiences or attraction without explicitly discussing them.

    5. Social norms and cultural context: The use of penis metaphors can be influenced by social norms and cultural context. In some societies, there may be a history of using such metaphors as a form of expression or as a way to convey certain ideas within particular social or linguistic frameworks.

    It is crucial to consider that the reasons behind using penis metaphors can be multifaceted, and these explanations may not apply universally or to every individual. Additionally, interpretation of metaphors can vary greatly depending on cultural, contextual, and individual factors.
    AI Generated ~ fully curated & edited by P. AItch

  13. P. Aitch 2023-09-13 13:30

    And that’s how to tactically and tactfully end a thread. 🤠

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