2011 in Review: Top reporter, story

Indianapolis Star reporter John Russell stands next to the pile of documents he collected during in his damning reports on the ethics of certain IURC and Duke employees.

Despite all the Gannett-induced drama, The Indianapolis Star still has some mighty fine reporters. We must

concur with the Society of Professional Journalists' naming John

Russell

the Indiana Journalist of the Year. Through dogged persistence and

deft use of the state public information laws, Russell was able to identify an

all-too-cozy relationship between Duke

Energy

officials engaged in a multi-billion dollar coal gasification plant

in Edwardsport and the state officials charged with oversight of the project.

The story began when a Star

editor received a Citizens

Action Coalition

news release decrying Duke's hiring of Scott Storms, an

administrative law judge and general counsel at the Indiana

Utility Regulatory Commission

. The editor told Russell, whose regular beat

had nothing to do with utilities, that the story merited a little digging.

Twenty-three open-records requests later, with enough

damning email to make even the most jaded and duplicitous executive blush, The Star was able to print what Russell

calls "my favorite headline in 26 years of journalism — 'Scandal

Topples Duke Executive.' "

Of course the kerfuffle resulted in other firings and

reassignments at Duke and within state government, plus the recent indictment

of former IURC Chair David Lott Hardy.

The story's not over yet. The Edwardsport project continues

and Duke would like to bill consumers for its more than $1 billion in cost

overruns. Thankfully, Russell is still on the case.

In other energy-related news, when the Indiana

General Assembly

wasn't otherwise consumed with right-to-work drama in the

2011 legislative session, it got so bold as to pass a voluntary

renewable energy standard

. Between that and new federal rules tightening

emissions standards on coal-fired power plants, perhaps Indiana's reputation

for having some of the nation's dirtiest air will change in the next 50 years

or so. Meanwhile, as we nurse our kids through their asthma attacks,we can console them with the reassuring

knowledge that at least we have some of the cheapest electric bills in the

nation.

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