18 groups oppose end to some IDEM hearing notices
By RICK CALLAHAN September 14, 2012 8:38PM
Updated: September 14, 2012 10:27PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Eighteen environmental and public interest groups urged Indiana’s environmental agency to reconsider its plans to stop publishing newspaper notices about hearings on proposed air quality policy changes, warning the change will eliminate “an important channel” in alerting the public about the hearings.
The groups said in a joint statement sent Friday to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that its plans “will inadequately serve the public’s interest” by shutting off one of the avenues through which Indiana residents learn about the hearings.
Their statement also expressed concern that the agency might expand the proposed policy to other areas and that other state agencies might eventually follow suit.
Under IDEM’s policy change, the agency will on Dec. 1 stop publishing newspaper advertisements announcing hearings before the state’s Air Pollution Control Board on proposed changes to state air pollution rules and plans to bring parts of the state that exceed federal air quality regulations into compliance with those rules.
Instead, IDEM will notify the public of hearings with email, notices posted on its website and postcards mailed to people who’ve requested information on the hearings.
The groups’ statement to IDEM said elderly rural residents could be “disproportionately” impacted by the policy change because they might not have access to the Internet and are more prone respiratory ailments aggravated by poor air quality.
“Few Hoosiers will anticipate that an IDEM hearing affecting their community or the entire state is looming. You can’t expect that they’ll routinely check the IDEM website to see if there’s anything that would cause them to act,” the groups said in their statement emailed to the agency. “... IDEM’s proposed policy would lead ordinary Hoosiers to lose an important channel to learn about these important hearings.”
The groups requested a meeting with the IDEM leadership in hopes of persuading the agency to seek a change in the planned policy.
The groups signing the statement include the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana Public Health Association, the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club, Common Cause of Indiana, the Hoosier State Press Association and Citizens Action Coalition.
The letter also expressed concern that IDEM could stop publishing notices of other hearings and that other agencies could as well.
IDEM spokesman Amy Hartsock said Friday the agency’s commissioner, Thomas Easterly, told a state panel earlier this month that IDEM would look at other notices and may “seek legislative authorization to eliminate any notice publication requirements that are obsolete.”
But Hartsock also said Easterly told that panel the agency has no current plans to pursue such legislation.
IDEM has said the new policy is aimed at cutting the time needed to alert the public about hearings, speeding up the process of finalizing policy actions and reducing agency resources devoted to placing the notices and verifying their publication. The change will save the agency about $7,500 each year.
Joint Statement: http://tinyurl.com/9mmyvnd