Legislative Pulse: Iowa

Published April 7, 2015

[Editor’s Note: Iowa State Rep. Ralph Watts (R-District 19) is serving his fourth term in Iowa’s House of Representatives. Watts serves on the Commerce, Labor, State Government, and Veteran’s Affairs committees.]

Burnett: You’ve been asked to discuss the ethics of energy at a university symposium. How are ethics linked to current issues?

Watts: The Ethics Department at the University of Northern Iowa has scheduled a daylong seminar titled The Ethics of Energy Production.

Two energy projects crisscrossing Iowa raise ethical issues. One is a proposed interstate pipeline for the transportation of Bakken crude [oil] from North Dakota to a point interconnecting with pipelines in southern Illinois and on to southern coastal refineries.

The other project is a proposed high voltage (750KV) transmission line from the northwest counties of Iowa to a point in Illinois interconnecting with regional electrical operations.

In my opinion, these two projects highlight the fundamental issue of private property rights in this country. Private property has been the foundation and catalyst of economic progress in America and deserves our highest protection. The taking of private property, whenever necessary, must be done by satisfying the “public use” requirement in the U. S. and Iowa Constitutions.

For decades we have installed pipelines across this country to move gaseous and liquid commodities cost-effectively. Generally, the lines acquire easements and are installed with a minimum of disturbance to the land and serve a wide public use because they fill an urgent public need, thereby meeting the “public use” requirement for consideration of eminent domain being used, if necessary, to acquire right of way.

The pipeline has refiners ready to accept shipments. Having a plentiful domestic oil supply benefits virtually everyone.

By contrast, the transmission line doesn’t have suppliers ready to connect. They are operating on the “build it and they will come” theory and relying on the federal wind energy tax credit remaining in place to support their business model. Without the mandates in place, there would be no need for the power line.

The public already has access to energy at a lesser rate. Obviously, forcing the public to buy a commodity (via state-ordered mandates for a specified level of renewables) at a higher price than the market provides doesn’t fit the “public use” criterion required to use eminent domain to acquire property for the construction of the line.

Burnett: What federal environment or energy proposals are you watching?

Watts: The best thing that could happen, in my opinion, is to let the market provide our energy needs like it always has. That could happen if we let the wind energy tax credit die a natural death.

On the federal level, the proposed regulations regarding coal-fired power plants should be a huge concern for every American. Coal is our most abundant natural resource, and modern technology has found ways to utilize it in a very clean manner, but radical environmentalism has overtaken our regulatory mechanism in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The pending closure of economical coal-fired power plants threatens the stability of the electrical system across the country.