Air cleanup plan a tough sell in Iowa town

Muscatine resident Evelyn Reed listens as GPC's Mick Durham explains the company's plans to reduce air pollution in th town. (Photo by B. Adam Burke for Midwest Energy News)

Plans to reduce air pollution and strong odors from a coal-powered ethanol, alcohol and grain mill in Iowa’s most polluted city were met with skepticism by some area residents last night.

Mick Durham, Director of Environmental Services at Grain Processing Corporation, presented GPC’s schedule for a new dryer house and coal fired boiler environmental controls at its Muscatine plant.

The effort to clean up Muscatine’s air was the subject of a Midwest Energy News report earlier this year.

GPC abuts Muscatine’s Southend residential neighborhood and, with Monsanto Corporation and Muscatine Power and Water, is one of three major area polluters monitored by state regulators. The GPC plant has been the stage of an ongoing (since 2008) union lockout and a 2009 search warrant served by EPA agents.

The meeting between GPC and Clean Air Muscatine (CLAM), an activist group that formed this year, began with a short presentation by Janet Sichterman, VP of Human Resources and Communications at GPC’s parent company Muscatine Foods Corporation.

Sichterman gave her company’s history and then introduced Durham, who gave a detailed presentation on GPC’s plans to build a $75 million grain dryer. The new dryer house will eliminate 11 other dryers at the corn mill and is scheduled to be online in 2014. A $20 million upgrade to emissions controls for coal-burning is expected to be ready in early 2015.

The company has projected their total emissions in Muscatine will be reduced 72 percent by 2015 and 82 percent by 2020.

Durham tried to deflect some criticism by pointing to shifting pollution standards that he felt have forced polluters to guess at regulations and air quality standards.

The dryer house project has been through a three-year permitting process and the dryer unit can’t be purchased until permits are complete.

CLAM members have maintained a skeptical stance since GPC’s announcement about the cleanup project.

After some heated discussion, Sichterman told the group, “I’m hearing the enormous amount of frustration in the room.” She said she had come to listen to the group’s concerns and that the company was working on marketing its message about the upgrades.

CLAM president Sandy Stanley told the group, “Our anger should be directed at public officials,” including county and local representatives. She also reminded her group that GPC was only one of the polluters in the area.

Putting her company on record, Sichterman declared, “In 2015, the smell will be gone, the haze will be gone…We’re saying it clearly.”

When asked by Karl Reichert if GPC was a good corporate neighbor, without hesitation Sichterman said, “Absolutely. We are going to do our part,” but, she added, “I wish we could change the past.”

While admitting his own frustration with the pace of permits for the project, Durham said, “This is the fastest we can do it.” He also admitted that, “It’s impossible to eliminate it [air pollution] 100 percent.”

After listening to the data-heavy pitch, Lynda Smith, a life-long Muscatine resident who suffers from COPD, said, “Clean air isn’t numbers. You know it when you breathe it.”

The group plans to meet again next week.

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