Tisha’s Insights

It’s Impossible. Succeed Anway.

May 08, 2024 Tisha Schuller

We’ve all heard the complaint (and maybe even made it): NIMBYism and BANANAism are stopping energy projects of all types everywhere. (I covered the renewables side in this Both True.) So I enjoyed my team’s wide-eyed, open-mouthed surprise last week when one of us presented Tallgrass’s recent announcement: It had successfully negotiated a community benefits agreement with its former antagonist, the Bold Alliance, to allow conversion of Tallgrass’s Trailblazer natural gas pipeline to transport CO2. Wait—how did that happen?

As regular Both True readers know, we’ve covered how CO2 pipelines—despite being central to action on reducing emissions in ethanol-producing states—don’t get a public relations pass. But the Trailblazer agreement is a signal to companies that their relentless optimism can pay off, sometimes unexpectedly. Constructive engagement can yield success! Read on to keep your flame of hope alive.

Both of these things are true:

  • It has become increasingly straightforward for alliances of opponents—traditional and novel—to stop energy projects.
  • Companies can and must, nevertheless, pursue engagement in pursuit of the lane where shared interests align. 

The situation

Among a backdrop of Midwestern drama around CO2 pipelines, the April 2024 agreement between Bold Alliance and Tallgrass is momentous. The agreement—which to our knowledge is unprecedented—funds first responders and nonprofits along the route. Notably, it also provides landowners with an option for annual royalty checks—giving those landowners an interest in the endeavor’s success.

There’s a lot that’s unique about this particular agreement. But there’s plenty for you to take away and apply to your own permitting and community engagement endeavors:

Understand the community. If you want your community engagement and environmental justice efforts to succeed, don’t stop at envisioning what the community may want; reach out to learn what it actually does want. The Trailblazer agreement gets gold stars for developing a project that offers benefits to affected communities, that demonstrates commitment to safety and accountability, and that acknowledging landowner rights. (Tallgrass also did a good job communicating those project features to the community; more on that below.)

Cast a wide net. It’s harder for observers to dismiss your success when there’s a wide array of supporters. The agreement between Tallgrass and Bold Alliance received endorsements from a who’s who of relevant local organizations, including the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Corn Growers Association, Cattlemen Association, Farmers Union, Soybean Association, Sorghum Producers, Dairy Producers, and Pork Association. Additional supporters included Renewable Fuels Nebraska, the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighter Association, and We Support AG.

Create standout solutions. Communities along every project consider themselves unique—because they are! The Tallgrass and Bold Alliance plan has several solutions that stand out because they marry community priorities with company opportunities. The Community Benefits Agreement outlines such solutions: providing the option for residual income versus one lump-sum payment, funding first-responder programs, supporting local nonprofit organizations, and allowing landowners to reclaim decommissioned land. These compromises are straightforward and yet customized to the interests of the Trailblazer stakeholders. 

Highlight the value. Pipeline companies’ working with communities to earn support for a project is not novel. What makes this project different is a community benefits plan made public at the outset to the targeted stakeholders. Now that this precedent is set, it will be less complicated for companies to share the efforts they often make behind the scenes publicly.

Thank you to Morgan Gass for her writing contributions to this piece. Want to learn more about how to get your project across the finish line with community support? Reach out—we can help you devise such a strategy. Enjoying what you’re reading? Please forward to three colleagues. 

To your next mission possible,



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Both of These Things Are True

By Tisha Schuller