Indiana agency wants to end newspaper notices on air permits

Environmental groups say plans by Indiana's environmental agency to stop publishing newspaper notices about air permits being sought by polluters will make it more difficult for the public to learn about issues that could impact their health.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management wants to do away with newspaper notices about proposed air permits and instead inform the public through its own website, which receives only about 100 unique visitors a week, The Indianapolis Star reported .

The move is based on a 2016 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that lifts the requirement for agencies to provide public notice of certain air permits through newspapers.

IDEM officials say making the change will expand public access to permit-related documents and decisions because more people are using the internet.

But environmental groups disagree. They say the idea of greater internet use leading to expanded access to details about proposed permits is wrong.

Jesse Kharbanda, the executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said that dropping the newspaper notifications would be a contradiction of Gov. Eric Holcomb's "pledge to deliver 'great government service.'"

"Keeping large swathes of Hoosiers in the dark is the opposite of great government service," he said.

More than 23 percent of Indiana residents don't use or have access to internet, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That means nearly 1.5 million residents wouldn't be able to access public notices of hearings under the rule change.

Tony Mendoza, a staff attorney for Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program, said that IDEM has wrongly suggested that its proposed rule might expand access to agency decision-making.

"This is incorrect because the agency already provides e-notice," he said. "Accordingly, there are no actual benefits of the proposed rule other than saving IDEM some money."

IDEM spokesman Ryan Clem said that while the rule change would allow the state agency to forgo publishing notices in newspapers, it would not prohibit them from doing so. He said the agency has no way to know how many people submit comments on proposed permits because they saw a notice online or in a newspaper.

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