Air permit publication update: IDEM offers to mail notices to newspapers

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The fate of published notices of requests to pollute the air rests with a vote by the state Environmental Rules Board on Nov. 14.

The board, chaired by former state-senator Beverly Gard, consists of 16 members, including IDEM Commissioner Bruno Pigott as a non-voting member. Four of the voting members represent other state agencies and the remaining 11 members represent various constituencies who were appointed by the Governor.

The public hearing on the proposal to eliminate the required publication of notices of Air Quality Permit applications in newspapers was held Aug. 8. The only member of the public to testify was Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, who testified against the proposal.

Key said the testimony of IDEM’s Chris Pedersen, chief of Rule Development Section, makes it clear to him the motivation behind IDEM’s proposal – the lack of customer service by Indiana newspapers.

Pedersen rattled off a list of issues with the placement of public notices:

  No phone number available to get problems resolved (only an email address);

• Length of deadline prior to publication date to get a notice published (She said one newspaper requires a notice be submitted 14 days prior to the publication date);

• Credit holds placed on Air Quality permit publication, even when the late payment was associated with a wastewater program notice from IDEM;

• Missed publication dates; and

• Failure to publish at all.

“IDEM staff wants to eliminate publication because newspapers can be work, while hitting a button so the notice is posted is a relative piece of cake,” Key said.

But sporadic service issues, which HSPA could address for IDEM, is not a reason to deprive the public of its most effective means of learning about applications that could affect their health, Key argues.

Since the hearing, Key met with Matt Stuckey, deputy assistant commissioner, Office of Air Quality. HSPA has offered to help Stuckey’s department with the placement of public notices in the same fashion it already assists the state Alcohol & Tobacco Commission.

While Stuckey acknowledged HSPA’s service probably would save the Air Quality office a significant number of man-hours, the department will continue to push for the Board passage of the rule change allowing his department to merely post notices of hearing on the IDEM website, which was only visited by 2,000 unique visitors over the last 12 months. That compares with the 2.9 million adult Hoosiers who read a newspaper at least once a week.

“IDEM and board comments echo what I’ve heard from opponents of newspaper publication for 25 years,” Key said.

One board member suggested that rather than placing ads, IDEM could send out the information to newspaper editors who could decide on whether to publish the information as news. That’s not “public notice,” it’s media notice, according to Key.

During the hearing, Stuckey pointed out that notice on the IDEM website is there for weeks, while newspaper notice is published on a single day. “It doesn’t matter how many days its posted on a website, if no one sees it,” Key said. “People do see notices published in their local newspaper.”

Only one Board member, Ken Rulon of Arcadia, voted “no” on a motion to bring the rule to a vote in November. He represents the interests of agriculture on the Board.

“It’s disappointing that the Board didn’t see fit to kill this proposal that does nothing to improve government transparency – only hide information in plain sight because Hoosiers do not and will not seek out the IDEM website to learn if a local business seeks permission to pollute the air,” Key said.

“We do have time to further make our case with the Environmental Board members.”

IDEM offers to mail notices to newspapers 

As IDEM’s Office of Air Quality attempts to eliminate the publication of public notices of Air Quality Permit application hearing, it now offers to mail notices of air quality permit applications directly to newspapers

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Air Quality has reached out to the Hoosier State Press Association with an offer to mail directly to you information about air quality permitting actions. These permits are required for your local companies to discharge pollutants into the air.

Currently, IDEM must publish the notices of hearings on the permit applications in local newspapers, but that may change as IDEM is seeking permission to replace the publication with posting of the notices on IDEM’s website. HSPA is opposing this rule change under consideration by the state Environmental Rules Board.

Meanwhile, Matt Stuckey, deputy assistant commissioner for the Office of Air Quality, offers to place any interested newspaper on its “interested parties list.” If you are added to the list, you will get a note containing information about any hearing to be held based on a company’s desire for an air quality permit. You can designate the county or counties where permits are sought that you’d like to receive.

To be added to the list contact Joanne Smiddie-Brush at either jbrush@idem.in.gov or  (317) 233-0185. She will need the following information:

1. Name of the newspaper

2. Contact name

3. Mailing address

4. County or counties of interest