State air quality agency moves to end public notices

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What’s the value of public notice?

Apparently less than $7,500 for the Office of Air Quality in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

In its public notice advertisements, the office includes language of its intention to stop publishing notices of its hearings required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as of Dec. 1.

Attention press and environmental advocates

To voice opposition to the state Office of Air Quality’s move to stop publishing public notices, contact:

IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly, Indiana Government Center North, 100 N. Senate Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204; (800) 451-6027

Acting Division Director George Czerniak, EPA Region 5 Offices, 77 Jackson Blvd., Suite 1600, Chicago, IL 60604; (312) 353-2000

Instead, all notices will be posted on the website of IDEM. 

HSPA sat down with the Office of Air Quality’s Scott Deloney and Chris Pedersen to voice its concern with this agreement reached between IDEM and the EPA.

They raised two concerns with the use of newspapers to notify the public of upcoming hearings.

One was timing. Deloney said it often took two to three weeks for newspapers to send tear sheets to his office. He said this delays IDEM’s ability to send proof of publication to EPA to move approval of air quality programs.

Responsiveness of newspapers also occasionally caused delays. His office needed to make a change in a public notice advertisement running in several newspapers.

“I called three newspapers on a Friday and didn’t get an answer at any of them, and no one called back when I left a message,” Deloney said.

Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key offered to have HSPA’s advertising service, Midwest Advertising Placements, take over the insertion of ads, collection of tear sheets, and billing of newspapers for the Office of Air Quality at no cost to the government agency to speed up the tear sheeting process and save IDEM man-hours, but the government officials were unmoved.

The second concern raised was cost.

Deloney said the Office of Air Quality could save up to $7,500 by replacing public notice advertising with posting on the IDEM website. He argued that amount of money could be the difference in keeping an employee.

“The workload is up twofold while resources are down 30 percent,” Deloney said.

Deloney and Pedersen believe the web posting is where those who make comments on various hearings get their information.

They said thus far, there haven’t been any complaints from the public as to the intention to quit publication of notices.

Key argued that the web posting replaces public notice with special interest notice.

Companies that will be directly impacted by regulations will designate someone on their payroll to keep tabs of future hearings and actions contemplated by the Office of Air Quality.

But citizens who will have to breathe the air after these special interests lobby for less restrictions don’t have that luxury.

Key pointed out that poll after poll across the nation show that a large majority (71 percent in a recent Pulse Research poll) want public notices of government activity in newspapers.

IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly and Keith Baugues, assistant commissioner for the Office of Air Quality, would make any change in the current decision, according to Deloney and Pedersen.

Key called IDEM officials’ reactions similar to what he sees with many local government representatives.

They don’t see many citizens showing up at hearings, so they feel the publication of public notices is a waste of time and money, he said.

“We’re not talking bad people but bad policy because public notice advertising is about the opportunity for the public to act on what government is planning to do,” Key said. “Publication in a local newspaper creates that opportunity, not a page buried in a state agency’s website.”

Key said the amount of money involved with the Office of Air Quality isn’t the issue.

“The principle that a state website is a better vehicle for notification than newspapers is a precedent that shouldn’t go unchallenged by Indiana newspapers and those who care about government transparency,” he said.

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