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.
DeNoon is a reporter for the Indiana News Service.