- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa utilities regulators are considering whether to allow a Texas company to bury 346 miles of a crude oil pipeline under farmland and give it authority to use eminent domain to force unwilling landowners to sign easements.

Iowa is the only state yet to approve the permit for the $3.78 billion Bakken pipeline, which will carry about a half-million barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois, crossing through Iowa and South Dakota. The pipeline, to be built by Dakota Access, would stretch diagonally across 1,300 parcels of land and 18 counties in Iowa at a cost of $1 billion.

Thursday was the fourth day of meetings for the three-member Iowa Utilities Board, and it has set additional meetings for next week and into March.

Environmental and property rights groups have spoken out against the pipeline, coordinating most of the 3,700 letters to the board opposing the project. Among the concerns are that pipeline leaks could harm farmland and waterways, hurt land values, disrupt land productivity and damage timber areas.

Dakota Access also wants to use eminent domain for 296 parcels, but a 2006 Iowa law prohibits agricultural land from being taken by eminent domain for private projects or private development, which raises legal questions about whether Dakota Access - owned by Phillips 66 and Energy Transfer Partners, both publicly traded companies based in Texas - can force landowners to sign easements.

If the pipeline is approved by the utilities board, it’ll certainly lead to lawsuits, said Wallace Taylor, a Cedar Rapids attorney who represents the Sierra Club, an environmental group that opposes the project.

“That law the Legislature passed has never been litigated at all,” Taylor said.

Dakota Access says the pipeline will be significantly safer than transporting oil by truck or railroad, its construction will create $1 billion in economic benefit to Iowa and the domestically produced oil will improve national security. Labor unions favor the project because of the thousands of jobs construction will create.

The Iowa Utilities Board must decide whether the pipeline meets the requirements of Iowa law, which authorizes approval of a permit only if the service provided “will promote the public convenience and necessity.”

The project also must receive approval from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers because the pipeline will be tunneled underneath the Mississippi River.

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