Some residents of Muscatine who lived near the plant filed the lawsuit claiming nuisance, trespass and negligence against the plant for alleged pollution released in the milling process.
Attorney Jim Larew represents the Muscatine residents. “We’re very pleased for our plaintiffs and the citizens of Muscatine that the court has certified two classes, which will enable them to proceed with the case,” Larew says.
The District Court Ruling creates one class of people who live within one-and-half miles of the plant, and another which lives outside that first area. Larew says the company now has some options. “Iowa law allows either party after a class certification is made by the trial courts to appeal that issue to the Iowa Supreme Court. Normally a party has 30 days to make that decision — whether to appeal or not,” Larew says. He says those involved would be notified if the case goes forward.
“Normally class members have the chance to either opt in or opt out. The court will make it clear procedurally what happens,” according to Larew. This lawsuit was first filed in April of 2012. The district court initially had thrown out the case, siding with the company which said the issues fell under the federal Clean Air Act. But the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in June of 2014 that there were claims that could be decided in the state court and ordered the lawsuit to proceed.
The company agreed in March of last year to a record $1.5 million civil penalty for violating environmental regulations. GPC also agreed to convert its boilers from coal-fired to natural gas-fired to cut air pollutant emissions as part of the settlement.
GPC released this statement following the court ruling:
GPC does not fundamentally believe the plaintiffs in the Freeman case have proven a common claim of damages as is required by a class action lawsuit. While reviewing our legal options for appealing this decision, GPC will continue to focus on doing the things a responsible business does for its community, its customers, and employees.
GPC takes its role of being a good corporate citizen very seriously. While GPC strongly disagrees with the Court’s ruling, any future statements about this case will be addressed in the legal and regulatory venues.
Muscatine has been home for GPC since 1943. GPC employees live, work, and raise their families here. GPC is committed to the health and safety of the Muscatine community. Over the past years, GPC has worked diligently to lower emissions over 85% through a number of projects, including a new $83 million dryer house and converting all boilers from coal to natural gas. These two projects have substantially reduced levels of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and lead significantly below the legal limits set by the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
(This story was updated on 10/30/2015 adding GPC statement)