Opinion and Forefront

VAUGHN: Shine more light on Duke/IURC secrets

November 12, 2011

Julia VaughnIt has been more than a year since the Duke Energy/Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ethics scandal began to unfold, and instead of having answers to the many questions swirling around this controversy, the public remains in the dark.

It is disturbing that so much time has gone by without resolution of key questions, including whether state ethics rules were widely flouted by key members of the Daniels administration to whether these violations amount to more than a breach of the public trust.

With the bloated and bungled Edwardsport power plant at the middle of this and ratepayers on the hook for the vast majority of this ill-advised debacle’s cost overruns, the public deserves a full and immediate status report on the investigations that are under way.

More transparency from the IURC is in desperate need because they and Duke are abusing public records laws in what seems to be an effort to shield key officials from the glare of this scandal. And Daniels missed the opportunity to bolster public confidence by removing this issue from the badly tainted IURC to an independent arbiter.

Daniels should have copied former Gov. Bob Orr, who handed decisions regarding the future of the problem-plagued and scandal-ridden Marble Hill nuclear plant over to a task force that decided to shutter the project.

While Inspector General David Thomas did file ethics charges against former IURC administrative law judge Scott Storms for misleading the State Ethics Commission, and Storms has been found guilty of doing so, it is troubling that others who were in on the attempt to hoodwink the Ethics Commission have not also been held accountable.

It at least appears that Thomas has settled on catching the little fish, while the bigger fish wriggle out of the net. Here’s hoping Thomas is just slow to bait his hook and has a plan to get the big fish in the boat.

And, while the inspector general, FBI and Marion County prosecutor have launched investigations, there has been no word from any of these camps on the status of their work. It seems we get regular updates on their important efforts to curb street-level crime, but it would be nice to know they are active on the white-collar crime front as well.

Hearings on who gets to pay for the Edwardsport project’s massive cost overruns began in late October and highlight how this case continues to be conducted in the shadows. Volumes of important documents detailing Duke’s conduct and behavior have been turned over to the regulatory agency, but instead of shining light on this controversy, the IURC has gone along with the arbitrarily and inappropriately redacted huge portions of these supposedly public documents.

State law allows public records to be kept from public view in limited circumstances. The IURC has said the majority of redactions are to protect trade secrets, one of the reasons legally allowed. But records have also been redacted based on relevancy, which is not expressly permitted under the law and is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

Instead of throwing open the curtains and letting the sun shine in on these records, the IURC chose to keep them tightly closed, keeping public speculation high that this scandal goes higher up the food chain than the IURC.

For example, a memo detailing Duke CEO Jim Rogers’ meeting with Daniels has been completely blacked out. While I understand the governor is a bright guy, I doubt he’s an expert in electrical engineering, so it’s difficult to see how the trade-secrets redaction provision applies.

And information regarding this meeting between Indiana’s chief executive and Duke’s CEO can hardly be considered irrelevant, particularly given its place along the Edwardsport time line.

Perhaps Rogers did give the governor a routine heads-up on the project or maybe they talked about something else. The point is, we’ll never know because of the IURC’s decision to keep us in the dark.•

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Vaughn is policy director for Common Cause/Indiana, a nonpartisan citizens lobbying organization that works for open, honest and accountable government. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.



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