A Sangamon County Board committee's recommendation April 20 to continue a moratorium on construction of the proposed Navigator Heartland Greenway carbon-dioxide pipeline is the latest of numerous efforts by elected county and state officials to balance safety and economic development.
"Until we have all the evidence, I can't vote for any of this at all," said Jeffrey Thomas, a member of the County Board who sits on the county's zoning and land use committee.
The rural Pawnee Republican and almost all other members of the panel voted to support an extension of the county's seven-month moratorium, set to expire May 1. The full County Board will consider the proposal to extend the moratorium to the end of 2023 at its May 9 meeting.
Navigator CO2, an Omaha, Nebraska-based company with financial backing from BlackRock Inc., filed an updated pipeline permit application Feb. 24 with the Illinois Commerce Commission. Since then, state lawmakers and county boards have discussed a variety of measures that would make the Illinois leg of the five-state project both easier and harder for Navigator to complete.
Costing $3.4 billion, Navigator's pipeline would be the longest of its type in the country and would transport liquified and pressurized CO2 1,350 miles, from ethanol and fertilizer plants in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Illinois, to be injected more than a mile underground into the Mount Simon sandstone formation in northern Christian and eastern Montgomery counties.
More than 290 miles of the pipeline would extend into Illinois and pass through or into Adams, Brown, Christian, Fulton, Hancock, Henry, Knox, McDonough, Montgomery, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler, Scott and Sangamon counties. The pipeline would cross Sangamon County in an east-west route south of Springfield on its way to a proposed sequestration site in Christian County, north of Taylorville.
Navigator officials said they are considering potential sequestration sites in Sangamon, Logan, DeWitt and McLean counties in future phases of the project if the initial pipeline plan is approved.
The updated application includes a new 42-mile fork that extends south of Springfield and into Montgomery County on its way to a proposed CO2 sequestration site near Nokomis.
The updated permit application is scheduled to be ruled upon by the ICC by late February 2024. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval would be needed for the sequestration sites, and Navigator has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an expedited evaluation schedule for the plans for the pipeline to cross waterways, including under the Mississippi River.
In addition to Sangamon County, several counties along the pipeline route, including Christian and Montgomery, have adopted moratoriums, though it's unclear whether moratoriums would be binding or trumped by federal or state authorities if Navigator's plans are approved.
Supporters of the 1,300-mile project say the pipeline would prevent CO2 created as a byproduct of industrial processes from being released as a greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and reduce climate change.
Federal tax incentives made even more lucrative for CO2 emitters by the federal Deficit Reduction Act would be received by producers of CO2 and flow to Navigator in the form of pipeline use payments.
Supporters point to a December 2022 study by Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois that carbon capture and storage could result in a $3 billion economic impact and the creation of 14,400 new jobs in the state over a 30-year period. The report said carbon capture "could play a critical role in combating climate change and decarbonizing the global economy," but more regulation is needed at the state level to ensure safety and increase public support.
Opponents say the Navigator pipeline would forever damage farmland and put nearby residents at risk of potentially fatal pipeline ruptures. They say CO2 sequestration technology could threaten groundwater.
They say carbon capture technology can lead to more CO2 in the environment when it helps coal-fired power plants continue to operate, though the Navigator pipeline wouldn't serve power plants. Opponents also say carbon capture diverts dollars and attention from other clean-energy alternatives such as wind and solar.
Christian County farmer Karen Brockelsby said at an April 24 legislative hearing on the issue: "This debate is about whether Illinois will grant authority to large corporations to force landowners to have industrial waste transported near their homes and stored under their property, and then leave taxpayers of Illinois holding the bag for any disastrous consequences that may occur in the years to come."
Navigator has offered to pay Sangamon County government $47.4 million over a 30-year period in lieu of property taxes that Illinois doesn't allow for pipelines and sequestration sites.
The county's zoning and land use committee decided not to consider Navigator's proposed "development agreements" until after the panel conducts a public hearing on the issue, likely in July.
The panel also delayed until then a proposal to oppose state and federal approval of any CO2 pipeline until various concerns are addressed. Committee Chairman Greg Stumpf, a Springfield Republican, asked any groups supporting or opposing the Navigator pipeline to submit written comments by May 24.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly are considering legislation that would tweak or build upon a state law passed in 2011 to assist the now-defunct FutureGen project to capture and sequester CO2 for a proposed coal-fired power plant in Morgan County.
Environmental groups and other groups either opposed to or concerned about the Navigator proposal and also the proposed Wolf Carbon Solutions CO2 Pipeline from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Decatur are backing House Bill 3119 and Senate Bill 2421.
The bills contain identical provisions that would eliminate eminent domain powers for pipeline companies.
The legislation, which hasn't received any votes yet, also would establish setbacks and other regulatory requirements for public meetings, as well as a fund for emergency preparedness related to CO2 pipelines and sequestration.
The bills say developers and not landowners would be liable for sequestered CO2, and developers and not the state would be responsible for the long-term care of sequestration sites that close after decades of use.
State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, said during the April 24 hearing: "We need to recognize and acknowledge and handle the regulatory gaps at both the federal and state levels to ensure that Illinois landowners, local drinking water and our climate are adequately protected."
Regarding carbon sequestration, she told Illinois Times, "We have a long way to go before it's proven technology and scalable."
A bill supported by the pipeline industry, the manufacturing sector and unions would allow for property seizure through eminent domain for sequestration if owners of the "pore space" above 61% of a CO2 storage area agree.
House Bill 2202, according to Mark Denzler, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, "is intentionally designed as a landowner rights bill that is focused on rights and protections for siting and access, liability, pore space and utilization, and stewardship."
Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer at Illinois Times. He can be reached at [email protected], 217-679-7810 or twitter.com/DeanOlsenIT.