State regulators reject subpoena request for Rastetter testimony
An agriculture mogul who has a significant role in a pending carbon dioxide pipeline proposal will not be required to testify during its permit proceedings, the Iowa Utilities Board decided Tuesday.
Several people sought a subpoena to compel the under-oath testimony of Bruce Rastetter, a co-founder of Summit Carbon Solutions. Pipeline opponents wanted him to elaborate on the company’s ownership and the potential conflicts the company might have with Rastetter’s other business ventures.
The five-state pipeline system would transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to North Dakota for underground sequestration. Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group developed the concept of the project and is part-owner of Summit Carbon Solutions, one of its executives testified earlier this month.
If called to testify, Rastetter might have also faced questions about his interactions with elected officials. Pipeline opponents have speculated that his wealth and political influence have accelerated Summit’s project toward approval.
But in a unanimous decision on Tuesday, the IUB said: “Mr. Rastetter’s testimony does not appear relevant.”
“There has been no showing as to why Mr. Rastetter, who is not an employee of Summit Carbon, is the best person to testify in this proceeding regarding the corporate structure of a non-party,” the board said.
The IUB further noted that the subpoena request did not meet a deadline for such requests and that there was ample opportunity to seek Rastetter’s testimony earlier in the proceedings. Summit’s permit process has been ongoing for more than two years.
The approval of Summit’s pipeline permit in Iowa appears to be a foregone conclusion and, as such, it is futile to resist negotiating with the company, according to a fifth-generation farm owner in Wright County.
“I feel like it’s something I have to do,” said John Taecker, whose family has owned his farm near Eagle Grove since the late 1800s. “I don’t really have much other choice.”
Taecker testified Tuesday at the start of the sixth week of an evidentiary hearing for Summit’s hazardous liquid pipeline permit request with the IUB.
His family’s original farm of 670 acres was bought by Taecker’s great-great-grandfather in 1893, according to an application with the state to be noted as a Century Farm. The cost of the land at the time was $30 per acre.
Summit’s pipeline route passes through 10 of the family’s land parcels, which are the subject of ongoing negotiations for land easements, Taecker said. Because an agreement has not yet been reached, Taecker is among hundreds of landowners who are subject to the company’s eminent domain requests.
The easements allow Summit to build and operate its pipeline system on land it doesn’t own.
Taecker asked the board on Tuesday to allow his negotiations to continue rather than granting the company eminent domain.
He said he opposes hosting the pipeline on his property — primarily because of the damage to the land and underground tiling and because of safety concerns — but has negotiated with the company due to the threat of eminent domain. He hopes those negotiations will minimize the project’s effects.
Taecker said the project is likely to gain approval in Iowa because of “the political forces at work.” He was not more specific.
Taecker was among 17 landowners subject to eminent domain who were scheduled to testify on Tuesday, but only about half of those did testify. The hearing has seldom held to its schedule, and it appears the hearing will not conclude at the end of this week as the board had wanted.
The IUB has yet to say how the hearing might proceed after this week.
Attorney allowed to participate
A former attorney for the Office of Consumer Advocate can continue to represent the daughter of an affected landowner during Summit’s permit proceedings, the IUB has decided.
The office sought to disqualify attorney Anna Ryon from participating in the process because she was formerly its lead representative for the process. The office argued Ryon was privy to internal information and strategy discussions and could use that knowledge against the office’s interests.
The office is an advocate for residents in utility proceedings. Ryon has said she left the job because the office became less of an advocate for landowners after a new state attorney general, Brenna Bird, was elected last year and state lawmakers gave Bird greater authority over the office.
The IUB, in a split decision, said “it is likely there is sufficient evidence to support the disqualification of Ms. Ryon,” but that such a move would negatively impact her client.
“While the board does not appreciate the eleventh-hour maneuvers, the board nonetheless respects the rights of a party to select the counsel of its choosing,” board members Josh Byrnes and Sarah Martz concluded.
Board chairperson Erik Helland disagreed. He said Ryon failed to get permission from the Office of Consumer Advocate to represent other clients in the pipeline proceedings and that her client, Kerry Hirth, had plenty of time to find a different attorney.
“At some point there needs to be recognition that the ethical requirements, procedural rules and rules of evidence that apply to these matters are developed and adopted for the very purpose of ensuring transparency and the protection of the rights of participating parties,” Helland said in his dissent.
Ryon is a frequent participant in the hearing and filed the request to subpoena Rastetter.