The Winnebago tribe of Nebraska said an environmental impact study should be completed before permits are granted for a pair of carbon dioxide pipelines in several states on the Great Plains.
In a May 27 letter to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners, the tribe said it had concerns that the projects — Summit Carbon Solutions’ Midwest Carbon Express and Navigator Ventures’ Heartland Greenway — could negatively impact reservation areas.
“Every pipeline project is a risk,” Jennifer Bear Eagle, a Winnebago attorney representing the tribe, wrote in the letter. “As a permit-issuing body, neither you nor the public can make an informed decision without (knowing) the potential environmental impact.”
Until that is done, the Winnebago tribe – who approved the requirement for an environmental study in a March 24 resolution – “rejects any permit that may adversely affect their land or water or that of their neighbors.”
Similar letters were sent to the Omaha office of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Woodbury County Board of Commissioners in Iowa and the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration of Summit Carbon Solutions’ permit application.
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The Summit and Navigator projects, announced last year, would build thousands of miles of new pipelines across the region and transport carbon dioxide recovered from ethanol plants to deep underground sequestration sites in North Dakota and Illinois.
By sequestering carbon, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator Ventures could benefit from the 45Q tax credit, which provides $50 for each ton of carbon stored for up to 12 years.
Ethanol plants have also been keen to sign up for the project as it will reduce their ‘carbon intensity’ levels and maintain access to consumer markets with strict standards for fuel manufacturers.
They also said it will help corn farmers in Nebraska, who supply ethanol plants with about 280 million bushels of corn each year.
Critics of the pipelines have said the technology of burying carbon dioxide deep underground has not been proven and will not do enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and have called the projects a money grab.
According to project maps, none of the projects would enter the Winnebago Reservation in Thurston County but would pass through Dakota County. A Summit representative said the pipeline avoids more than 60 reservations across its entire footprint.
In a news release Tuesday, Winnebago Tribal Secretary Lorelei DeCora said members of the tribe had concerns about being downstream from the planned route.
“The pipeline construction path is on ancestral land of the Nebraska tribes,” DeCora said. “What happens when they disturb the burial sites of our ancestors? There’s just too much unknown for these pipelines. It is therefore important that this study is carried out.
“It is our duty to protect Mother Earth,” she said.
Both Summit and Navigator have yet to receive approval to begin construction, but Summit has begun receiving easements from landowners in multiple counties of Nebraska while the project progresses through various regulatory processes in multiple states.
In an interview earlier this month, officials at the summit praised the outreach the Iowa-based company had made with tribes and local governments before reviewing its permit applications was complete.
“I’ve worked on many pipeline and transmission line projects over the past 30 years,” said Troy Eid, outside consultant for tribal affairs at Summit. “This is a project where, more than any other I’ve worked on, we dropped out very early in the process.”
Eid, a former US attorney under President George W. Bush and chairman of India’s Law and Order Commission under President Barack Obama, said the federal permit required for the carbon dioxide pipelines is not currently required.
But the nature of the projects will trigger demands that government agencies and tribal organizations must consult on the project, he said.
Summit has sought to forestall that trigger by joining forces with tribes in the five states where the pipeline operates, Eid added, to share the environmental and economic benefits and ways the tribes are doing can benefit.
“We want them to be involved so that in this consultation you can have your own information and ask your own questions and draw your own conclusions,” he said.
Chris Hill, a senior project consultant, said Summit has also committed to conducting a cultural survey of the proposed route, which he says goes beyond what previous projects have done.
“This is one of the first times that a pipeline project has entered into this dialogue prior to sending out a pre-construction notification,” Hill said.
Still, the Winnebago Tribe’s resolution and letter come as the projects have met opposition in several states and counties, particularly from landowners who fear a significant area could be used to secure the land needed to complete the route.
No counties in Nebraska have followed the example of those in Iowa and South Dakota, who have spoken out broadly against the pipelines, but there has been some county-level discussion about passing new zoning codes for the projects.
According to the Board of Commissioners’ record, Dakota County held a May 16 hearing on proposed pipeline regulations.
These regulations would have required the pipeline to be laid no less than 1,320 feet from a dwelling and at least 6 feet below ground and 8 feet below ground at county road rights of way.
Several people who testified at the May 16 commissioners’ meeting — including representatives from Summit and Navigator, as well as natural gas companies — rejected the proposed regulations as too onerous and vowed to work with the county on revisions.
In March, the same day the Winnebago tribe said it would oppose pipeline projects without an environmental impact study, Holt County officials — who issued regulations during the proposed Keystone XL tar sands project — opposed a proposed moratorium on new pipelines.
Holt County supervisors echoed several people who spoke during a public meeting and said the moratorium sent the wrong message that the county was closed to business.
Tribal leaders, on the other hand, said the projects could wait until it was demonstrated that the pipelines would not have any negative impact on the environment.
“The Winnebago Tribe stands in solidarity with the region’s farmers who are opposing these pipelines and the use of significant lands to gain access to land without landowner consent,” said Chairwoman Victoria Kitcheyan. “The health, well-being and rights of all are important to all of us.”