Greater scrutiny of Duke, IURC requested

Several environmental and consumer rights activists advocate greater watchdogging efforts of the Duke's Edwardsport project.

By Leigh DeNoon

For more than a year, utility

watchdog groups have urged the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to

investigate the impact of "ex parte" or private conversations about

the Duke Energy Edwardsport project which took place

between Indiana regulators and Duke.

In an IURC filing last week, Duke argued that unless an outside investigation

suggested wrongdoing, a probe is not appropriate or necessary.

Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, disagrees -

particularly after the indictment of former IURC head David Lott Hardy on

charges of felony official misconduct.

"Without question, the Marion County prosecutor has identified those

communications as fitting within the context of the ex parte statutes and, more

specifically, has filed criminal charges against former chairman Hardy for

failing to disclose those communications," he said.

Hardy was fired from the IURC last year by Gov. Mitch Daniels after it became

known that he was aware IURC general counsel Scott Storms was being courted to

work for Duke while Storms actively participated in proceedings with the utility.

Steve Francis, chair of the Indiana

Sierra Club, is convinced that the private communications need to be

scrutinized more closely to determine what effect they had on the Edwardsport project.

"I think it rises beyond perception now that there have been improper

communications," Francis said. "It's not just the reputation of the

IURC as an independent regulatory agency that's at stake — it's really restoring public trust in it."

After the indictments, says John Blair, president of Valley Watch in Evansville, he's lost all faith in the IURC and

thinks the current system should be thrown out.

"We should have an elected IURC — with the stipulation that

utilities and the people who work for them would not be able to contribute to

that campaign."," he said.

Daniels has said Hardy's indictment does not mean the Edwardsport

project was tainted by the scandal, and that he believes the project is necessary

to keep up with the state's electricity demands.

Leigh

DeNoon is a reporter for the Indiana News Service.

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