Grain Processing to pay $50 million to compensate Muscatine residents harmed by plant's air pollution

Grain Processing Corporation (GPC) has been ordered to pay $50 million in damages to settle a class action lawsuit over air pollution from its Muscatine corn-milling plant that harmed thousands of nearby residents.

Iowa District Court Judge John Telleen gave preliminary approval of the settlement Monday (October 22), concluding six years of litigation over air pollution from the GPC facility.

"In the end, it took law firm Miner, Barnhill & Galland (MBG) six years of work – with the Larew Law Office (of Iowa City) and support from scores of class-member witnesses – to take on one of the oldest and most influential businesses in a community where residents had only recently started to gather to find solutions," according to a news release from the MBG law firm.

The settlement would provide payments ranging from $12,000 to $16,000 for those residents most affected by the air pollution and who lived in the area for the full 10 years covered by the class action. For those further away from the plant, payments would range from $2,000 to $4,000.

Under terms of the settlement, GPC also would be required to spend $6.5 million within five years on new pollution controls, particularly upgrades to reduce odor from the plant.

In March 2014, GPC agreed to a record $1.5-million fine and agreed to hire an independent firm to conduct a comprehensive environmental audit of its corn-processing facility to assure compliance with federal and state environmental laws. That consent decree resolved a lawsuit filed by the Iowa Attorney General in December 2011, and addressed air and water pollution violations cited by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) as far back as 2009.

The Muscatine firm, owned by Kent Corporation, announced a $100-million capital improvement program for the GPC plant after the 2011 lawsuit was filed.

In 2013, Muscatine was designated in "non-attainment" for fine particulate (PM 2.5) pollution by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and seven of 14 exceedances of air quality standards for PM 2.5 statewide were recorded in Muscatine. For the same period, all 67 exceedances of air quality standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2) statewide were recorded in Muscatine.

“Clean air is a right, not a privilege,” Sarah Siskind, one of the lead MBG attorneys for the plant neighbors, stated in the settlement news release. “We’re eager to close this chapter on the litigation so that Muscatine citizens, and GPC, can move on.”

The court has scheduled a Fairness Hearing on the settlement for February 2019.

The class action case also involved two appeals to the Iowa Supreme Court, and resulted in decisions which "will have far-reaching significance for claims like these in other states," according to MBG attorney Scott Entin.

In one appeal, the state supreme court upheld the lower court decision which rejected "the argument that the plaintiffs’ claims raised too many individual issues to be handled in a class action trial," he said.

And in 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court considered GPC’s preemption defense – that citizens’ private common law property rights were wiped out when Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970. The Court unanimously rejected that appeal, according to Entin.

CLICK HERE for news release by Miner, Barnhill & Galland (MBG).

Go to top