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Ethics of proposed pipelines discussed at UNI

Ethics of proposed pipelines discussed at UNI

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UNI Ethics of Energy Production seminar

Pat Higby, right, representing the Iowa Wind Energy Associates, answers an audience question during a panel discussion on the Rock Island Clean Line at the Ethics of Energy Production seminar on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Wednesday. Her fellow panelists are, from left, Iowa Policy Projects' David Osterberg, attorney Justin LaVan and Sierra Club's Pam Mackey-Taylor. 

CEDAR FALLS | Attorney Justin LaVan let the numbers tell the story of opposition to the proposed Rock Island Clean Line that would pass through 16 Iowa counties to deliver wind-generated electricity outside the state.

LaVan said 176 landowners had voluntarily signed an agreement with the Clean Line Energy Partners to allow the proposed route to go through their property. The company needs 1,540 such easements.

“They’re 1,364 voluntary easements short, as of our discussion here this morning,” LaVan said during a panel discussion on the clean line at The Ethics of Energy Production seminar on the University of Northern Iowa campus Wednesday.

Questions of eminent domain, environmental justice, economic development and climate change surrounded the debate over proposed pipelines, including the clean line, that would cross parts of the state. And they all got ample hearing during the day-long seminar at UNI.

LaVan, who represents an alliance of landowners who oppose the pipeline, was not alone in speaking for those who are against the Rock Island Clean Line or against parts of the proposal. But there appeared to be a larger gray area for those considering the clean line than for those who had given thought to the proposed Dakota Access pipeline, or what’s often referred to as the Bakken pipeline.

David Osterberg, a panelist and founder of the progressive Iowa Policy Project, said if the question is on the ethics of the pipelines, he has a simple reason for supporting the clean line and opposing the Bakken line: slowing the impacts of climate change.

“[T]his particular industry is the bane of our existence in Iowa, because it hurt everything else, not only wind but also ethanol. They’re bad guys. Don’t give them a pipeline,” Osterberg said of the oil industry and the Bakken pipeline.

He said of the clean line, “They picked a good name. They’re also a whole lot better.”

He encouraged people to view the proposed pipeline as simply the option in front of them, rather than get caught up on what could be the ideal.

Osterberg argued the questions over eminent domain were more tactical issues than ethical ones. He said the questions over environmental justice were smart and focused on ethics; he just happens to disagree with them.

Pam Mackey-Taylor, a panelist and spokesman for the Sierra Club, said the environmental group is neutral on the clean line pipeline, because of the myriad issues that complicate the proposal.

She explained the group supports clean energy, but the construction of such a line does have environmental justice impacts -- disrupting nature, removing birds and bats from their natural habitat, and impacting the property rights of people.

Other attendees raised concerns about sending transmission lines out of the state when Iowans could find ways of using the energy here.

Mark Thompson, who represented three of the 176 landowners to voluntarily sign easement agreements, said he and his clients had few of the worries expressed by LaVan. He said despite the concerns, there was little risk of drastically reduced property values and little impact to farming operations.

That view also was supported by Pat Higby, a panelist and representative of the Iowa Wind Energy Associates. Higby said her father allowed a transmission line to go through his property and saw no adverse effects from it.

Though more attendees appeared to show some support for the Clean Line rather than the Bakken line that would transmit crude oil, there were still some supporters in the audience who welcomed the jobs that the Dakota Access pipeline could bring.

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