GOP Activists: Rick Perry's Bakken Oil Pipeline Ties Could Cost Him Iowa Caucus Support

Read time: 6 mins

By David Goodner

Former Texas governor Rick Perry's recent appointment to the board of Energy Transfer Partners, a company attempting to build a Bakken oil pipeline through Iowa, could hurt him in the first-in-the-nation Republican Party caucus if he decides to run for president, according to a conservative Iowa Republican activist and a DeSmog analysis of the political landscape.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) appointed Perry to its Board of Directors on February 3. ETP is a Texas-based company whose subsidiary corporation, Dakota Access, LLC, has petitioned the state of Iowa to build a pipeline carrying up to 575,000 barrels per day of oil obtained via North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fields.  

The news about Perry's board appointment and its tie-in to the Iowa Caucus highlights the complicated terrain the issue will create for some Republicans in Iowa. It is a “political hot potato,” as DeSmog's Steve Horn wrote, and it is possible questions about the pipeline will arise in caucus politics leading up to 2016.  

Permitting plans in Iowa by Energy Transfer Partners and Dakota Access, LLC have sparked resistance from environmental activists and family farmers, the latter of whom often vote Republican, as well as from the libertarian wing of the GOP. Libertarian Republicans are often concerned about property rights and the potential abuse by government of eminent domain laws to confiscate private land for corporate profit.

“If Rick Perry is going to compete in Iowa this year, this could definitely be a big factor that could hurt him,” Jeff Shipley, a young Republican from Fairfield, Iowa, told DeSmogBlog. Shipley is a Republican activist, organizer, and former statehouse candidate for the Iowa GOP who has worked on presidential campaigns and with county and state party leaders for years. His home in Fairfield is located in Jefferson County, one of 18 Iowa counties sitting along the proposed pipeline route.

Jeff Shipley Iowa
Photo Credit: Shipley for Iowa

“This is a for-profit corporation that is going to try and use the force of government to steal farmers property,” Shipley told DeSmogBlog. “That runs contrary to typical conservative values.”

Bakken Pipeline: Iowa GOP Wedge Issue

Like the national GOP, Iowa Republicans are often split between the libertarian and corporate wings of the party. Libertarians in Iowa exert enough political clout inside the state party that they were able to take control of the Iowa GOP in 2012, before losing power last year after Republican Governor Terry Branstad flexed his organizational muscle and wrested control of the party back into mainstream corporate Republican hands.

But tensions between the two factions still exist. And the Bakken pipeline issue could continue to drive a wedge between them. 

At least one Republican state legislator in Iowa has raised concerns about the Bakken oil pipeline for several months. 

Representative Bobby Kaufman from Wilton, Iowa is a young Republican, and the co-chair of the Government Oversight Committee. He told the Des Moines Register he is against using eminent domain for the pipeline and has considered filing legislation in response to curb the practice.

Iowa Representative Bobby Kaufman
Representative Bobby Kaufman; Photo Credit: The Iowa Legislature

“If the government or business can come in and take your property, or take part of your property for their own gain, then I can't think of a more egregious freedom infringement,” Kaufmann told the Register. “I oppose any out-of-state company getting condemnation rights.”

Rick Perry supported Kaufmann's re-election campaign last year, but it remains unclear if Perry and Kaufmann have ever spoken about the matter. DeSmogBlog attempted to contact Kaufmann on multiple occasions for comment on this story, but received no response.

Other prominent Iowa Republicans have also criticized the oil pipeline proposal. 

Doug Gross, a Des Moines-based attorney and Republican power broker with close ties to Branstad, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush represents a group of farmers and landowners in the path of the pipeline that have organized themselves into the Iowa Farmland Owners Association.

“From a policy standpoint, for us to kick this to a regulatory agency under a hopelessly archaic regulatory structure would be mindboggling,” Gross told the Des Moines Register. “[The oil is] not generated here, it's not produced here and it's not consumed here. It's just running through here. To us, that's not the basis of eminent domain,” Gross said.

DeSmogBlog did not receive a response from Gross for comment on this story after repeated attempts to contact him.

Big Business vs. Pipeline

Many business groups typically allied with Iowa Republicans also outright oppose the pipeline or have at least exerted power to influence the process. 

The Iowa Farm Bureau has warned farmers to consult with attorneys before signing any agreements with the oil company and says they want to ensure Iowa farmland and property rights receive protection. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, a powerful ethanol lobby organization, has lobbied against the Bakken pipeline project and claimed in a letter to elected officials that government policies unfairly favor oil interests over ethanol.

Perry: Pipeline Lobbyist?

Perry is expected to return to Iowa on March 7 when hog and ethanol tycoon Bruce Rastetter, an agribusiness CEO and President of the Iowa Board of Regents, hosts the first ever Iowa Ag Summit. Presidential candidates and elites from both the Republican and Democratic Parties will attend.

Perry maintains close ties with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, and the two have shared resources and collaborated on campaigns in the past. Although it's unclear whether they have talked personally about the Bakken oil pipeline, Branstad clearly supports it.


Iowa Governor Terry Branstad; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that Perry may have lobbied at least one Iowa state legislator about the proposal. 

Republican Iowa state senator Jack Whitver represents a district that includes land on the pipeline route. On February 4, Whitver told KCCI News that he had recently talked to Perry about oil pipelines and that he was more convinced after talking to Perry that they could build one in Iowa without harming property owners. 

Whitver did not respond to a request for comment from DeSmogBlog on this story.

The Des Moines Register reported on Perry's board appointment on February 8 and quoted Perry's Iowa spokesman Robert Haus saying, “Perry will not be publicly promoting the Bakken pipeline project.”

But Perry has spoken publicly in Iowa about the Bakken pipeline before. On February 1, WHO TV published a television interview of Perry urging Iowans to support the crude oil project

If Perry, only polling in the low single digits, is willing to risk losing what little grassroots support he has because of his involvement with this project, then it raises the question: is his role in the Iowa Caucus that of a corporate mouthpiece for Energy Transfer Partners? 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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