A federal judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit brought against an Iowa grain plant, which residents claim pollutes the air and damages their property.
The complaint was originally filed in 2012, by local residents against the Grain Processing Corporation (GPC) Grain Processing Plant in Muscatine, Iowa.
After being appealed all the way up to the Iowa Supreme Court, which overturned efforts to have the case thrown out, Iowa District Court Judge Thomas Reidel certified the air pollution class action last Wednesday.
The class includes any residents who lived within 1.5 miles of the plant from 2007 to 2012. The area around Muscatine, Iowa includes about 2,000 homes and about 4,000 current or former residents, according to some reports.
The GPC facility is a wet milling plant that changes corn into a variety of products, including corn syrup and ethyl alcohol. Plaintiffs say the plant has coated homes in the surrounding area with chemicals and soot.
GPC tried to have the lawsuit thrown out, arguing that the regulation of air pollution should be done by state and federal regulators and not tried in court. However, the Iowa Supreme court overturned a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a further appeal.
In March 2014, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced that GPC would pay a $1.5 million fine for violation of pollution laws. It was the highest state penalty ever levied for environmental violations. Miller brought the state’s own lawsuit against the plant in 2011.
In addition to paying fines, GPC was required to convert its coal-fired boilers to natural gas by July of this year. Miller said that the conversion would reduce the amount of air pollution emissions emitted by the plant by more than 12,000 tons per year.