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‘People power is how we win’

Iowa CCI rallies Iowans to protect communities from dangerous pipeline projects

It was a David vs. Goliath fight in Iowa last year when Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement went up against a trio of CO2 pipeline proposals in their state. Iowa CCI Senior Advisor Hugh Espey recently shared the group’s strategies with Rural Democracy Initiative grantees, illustrating how people power can overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Three corporations — Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures, and Wolf/ADM — all proposed massive pipeline projects throughout Iowa. Iowans grew concerned about the pipelines destroying farmland and endangering lives, draining taxpayer money to benefit powerful corporations, and using large volumes of water amid a widespread drought, among numerous other issues.

According to Espey, Iowans felt dismayed by the web of political ties between pipeline proponents and influential Iowa politicians. But they didn’t back down. Iowa CCI worked with a multistate coalition to develop a multipronged approach to take on the pipelines.

Iowa CCI targeted the state legislature, the utilities board, the Department of Natural Resources, as well as media outlets and Iowa neighbors. In one particularly creative move, Iowa CCI sent mailers to neighbors of a utilities board member, encouraging people in his neighborhood to speak out against pipeline approval. The Iowa organization identified the key times and places where important decisions would be made, then focused organizing efforts around those opportunities.

“Sustained public opposition, sustained public pressure will stop the pipelines,” said Espey. “That’s what we specialize in and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. People power is how we win.”

Iowa CCI’s approach provided a valuable lesson to rural organizers across the country. Espey stressed the group strives to put the people directly impacted in the driver’s seat of their advocacy. And messaging around corporate greed is an effective catalyst, he added, when it’s framed as a way to show up for our communities, for our families, and for our land. 

The work paid off. Both Wolf/ADM and Navigator CO2 Ventures canceled their Iowa plans in the fall of 2023, leaving Summit to continue to press for these risky projects. Espey is confident Iowa CCI members will “keep at it” to ultimately stop that pipeline too.