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Opinion: Bruce Rastetter Is No Climate Hero

April 17, 2022
Des Moines Register

Anuradha Mittal, Guest columnist

As the fight to stop the Midwest Carbon Express heats up in Iowa, a diverse coalition of Indigenous groups, environmentalists, landowners, and farmers is fiercely opposing Summit Carbon Solution’s proposed $4.5 billion, 2,000-mile-long, carbon capture and storage pipeline.

Reasons for their opposition are several. First carbon capture and storage (CCS) is widely discredited as an effective climate solution. CCS projects have systematically overpromised and under delivered. Despite billions of taxpayer dollars spent to date, CCS technology has failed to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, as it has “not been proven feasible or economic at scale.” Second, given it will carry highly hazardous materials, farmers and landowners are rightfully resisting such a pipeline to cross their land and threaten the health of their families and the environment.

Resistance to the pipeline is also based in lack of faith in Bruce Rastetter — the man at the helm of Summit’s parent company — to prioritize the public good over his own profits. Given lofty promises of potential benefits from the Midwest Carbon Express, especially as they relate to a “world demanding more sustainability,” it is essential to examine Rastetter’s sustainability record on projects he has helmed.

A major figure in agribusiness and a conservative political influencer in Iowa, Rastetter began his career by founding Heartland Pork Enterprises. Livestock family farmers across Iowa were driven out of business while Heartland Pork rapidly consolidated the industry and became one of the largest pork producers in the United States. Running large-scale hog confinement operations, sustainability or environmental concerns were not on his agenda, before Rastetter sold off the hog business amid losses. Today Summit Agricultural Group controls 14,000 acres of corn and soybean in Iowa, which are dependent on fossil-fuel based inputs for industrial agriculture, along with large cattle and hog operations as well as ethanol and farming businesses in Brazil.

As the co-founder of AgriSol Energy, in 2011, Rastetter acquired over 800,000 acres of land in the largest land deal in Tanzania — supposedly three “abandoned refugee camps” — to set up an agriculture enterprise with plans for industrial-scale crop cultivation, livestock, and agrofuel production. His plans, as exposed by the Oakland Institute, would have displaced over 162,000 smallholder farmers from their lands — all for the pittance of 23 cents an acre to be paid to the government. Citizen action against AgriSol’s project not only prevented mass displacement, but killed the project in 2012.

Despite the opposition and permits required, Rastetter anticipates the pipeline will begin construction in 2023, on schedule to be operational by 2024. On Feb. 1, 2022, Summit filed its first permit application to the Iowa Utilities Board and requested the use of eminent domain, having failed to receive the necessary voluntary easements from landowners. If granted, eminent domain will enable Summit to force unwilling landowners to cede the land easements at “fair market value.” For eminent domain to be granted, the board will need to determine if the pipeline serves “public purpose” — something the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the state had the right to do for the Dakota Access Pipeline construction in May 2019.