Hoosiers deserve pollutants notice

South Bend Tribune

Hoosiers may soon be required to put some extra effort into discovering when a nearby industrial facility is seeking permission to emit air pollutants.

They may be expected to root out government notices that directly impact them, rather than have that information be more accessible.

More likely, they’ll never see the notices at all.

That’s because the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has announced that it is considering replacing newspaper publication of public notice ads with electronic postings on its website.

IDEM claims that doing so would enable authorities to communicate “more quickly and efficiently” with the public.

That assertion contradicts surveys showing that a strong majority of Hoosiers read public notice advertising in their newspapers, and 85 percent favor government continuing to publish public notices in newspapers.

The move also would save about $17,000 per year by eliminating the advertising costs in local newspapers across the state, according to IDEM.

That’s a small price — a price that, yes, is paid to Indiana newspapers — for transparency. In fact, it’s a bargain, particularly in small communities where a newspaper’s reach and influence is wide. And that is what’s at stake here. This isn’t about saving money or being more efficient. It’s about making it more difficult, not easier, for the public to access information they have a right to receive — but most would have no idea when to look for it.

Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said public notice ads are an independent check on government action. “Hoosiers aren’t going to routinely check multiple government websites on a weekly basis to see whether anything has been posted that will directly impact or interest them,” he said.

It’s a misguided proposal that would relegate critical information to an agency website where few Hoosiers would ever find it.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.