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Over 80 South Dakota landowners are fighting a lawsuit filed by a company arguing for the “right” to eminent domain.
In late April, a carbon emissions reduction company, Summit Carbon Solutions, sued over 80 landowners to enact eminent domain in order to build their $4.5 billion carbon capture pipeline. The company sent letters to landowners earlier that month threatening to use eminent domain if the landowners didn’t agree to their purchase of easement.
Summit Carbon Solutions intends to build the pipeline across 18 counties in South Dakota as well as across the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. The goal of the pipeline is to reduce carbon emissions from the ethanol plants grown on the land.
Summit Carbon Solutions is suing so many South Dakota landowners with eminent domain condemnation lawsuits for their private carbon pipeline that searching "Summit Carbon Solutions" lawsuits overwhelms the state court system's search function with "too many matches found." https://t.co/y9S7G0gauW pic.twitter.com/1dneSDlpSH
— Rep. Jon Hansen (@RepJonHansen) July 13, 2023
Landowners sued last July to stop the company from surveying their land without their permission. In April, Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Richard Sommers ruled that the company could conduct surveys on private land without permission of the landowners. The ruling came around the time that Summit Carbon Solutions sent out its eminent domain threat letters. The landowners have appealed the decision to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
The survey consists of geotechnical drilling, or geotechnical boring, which drills holes typically around 3-12 inches in diameter and 200 feet into the ground. At least one farmer, Jared Bossly, has reported damages to his crops as a result of the unwanted surveys. Bossly reported the holes were 90 feet deep, and that the survey vehicles damaged his corn and soybean crops.
In addition to the current damages from the survey, Bossly said that the pipeline would result in the removal of the windbreaker line of trees necessary to protect his cattle, as well as the shallow layer of topsoil that ensures crop growth.
Update on the carbon sequestration pipeline and the use of eminent domain by private corporations in South Dakota: These photos, taken today, show Summit Carbon Solutions, accompanied by law enforcement, “surveying” land on farm ground without the farmer’s permission (does this… https://t.co/Nq32wDied1 pic.twitter.com/x9Fp7NDX3D
— Rep. Jon Hansen (@RepJonHansen) June 20, 2023
The property breaches and threat of eminent domain prompted citizens to petition their representatives for help. Last week, around 250 protesters convened at the state capitol, urging Governor Kristi Noem to convene a special session and outlaw the company’s actions.
Great day with landowners in Pierre, SD today! https://t.co/CXUXAFCGoQ
— Karla Lems (@karlalems16) July 7, 2023
Noem has passed the buck to lawmakers on calling a special session. The governor said that although her allegiance was with the landowners, she was reviewing the state’s legal options.
“If the legislature wants to call themselves into special session to change the law, I look forward to reviewing what they send to my desk,” tweeted Noem.
I always honor my oath to the Constitution, and the law is the law. If the legislature wants to call themselves into special session to change the law, I look forward to reviewing what they send to my desk. pic.twitter.com/M2A0qIupsy
— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) June 28, 2023
Following a press conference earlier this week, Noem disclosed to Dakota News Now that the legislature lacked a majority to enact the eminent domain protection the landowners desired.
“Whether it is to protect eminent domain or protect private property owners, that’s something that the legislature has to have a role in right now. They’ve washed their hands of it,” said Noem. “But their leadership has told me they don’t have consensus. They don’t have the ability to pass a bill right now if they were to go into a special session.”
Noem added that she asked Summit Carbon Solutions to make sure their surveyors were following the law.
“Well, you know, I’ve asked the company to talk to make sure that they are out there following the law as well,” said Noem.
While South Dakotans fight at home to keep their property rights, Noem has focused on opposing China’s purchasing of American farmland.
We started the conversation about stopping China from buying our ag land. Others are following our lead.
We must stop Communist China from controlling our food supply before they control us.https://t.co/6JjiSojenK
— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) July 13, 2023
Independent journalist and State Freedom Caucus Communications Director Greg Price reported that Noem may have conflicting interests on the issue. Summit Carbon Solutions’ leadership consists of influential Republican leaders; they were also a platinum sponsor for Noem’s inauguration in January.
Terry Branstad, former longtime Republican governor of Iowa and President Trump’s Ambassador to China, is a senior advisor for the company. A senior advisor for the PR firm working with the company, Dan Lederman, was formerly the chairman for the South Dakota Republican Party.
One of the farmers facing condemnation of his property due to the eminent domain lawsuit, Mike Klipfel, told The Mitchell Republic that he was disappointed in Noem.
“Governor Noem has said more than once that her dad told her not to ‘sell the land’ because ‘God is not making any more of it,’” said Klipfel. “Where is she now?
My dad always told me, “Never sell the land, Kristi. God’s not making any more of it.”
Supporting American farmers means keeping Chinese businesses from owning our American farms.
— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) July 25, 2022
The legislature failed to pass a bill prohibiting eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines earlier this year.
In order to build, Summit Carbon Solutions requires a Public Utilities Commission permit. The commission will hold a public hearing on the company’s application in September.