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Indianapolis Star Editorial: Compromised by business as usual November 30, 2010

Posted by Laura Arnold in Duke Energy, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).
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 http://www.indystar.com/article/20101130/OPINION08/11300305/1291/OPINION08/Compromised-by-business-as-usual

IURC and Duke Energy Ethics Scandal Continues…

Editor’s Note: What amazes me is this is what they put in writing in emails.  What else did they discuss and did not leave a “paper trail”? Is this still just the tip of the iceburg? What are your thoughts? Laura Ann Arnold

5:17 PM, Nov 29, 2010  

They discussed luxury cars, vacations, Butler University basketball, Monty Python and family matters.

 Close pals in prestigious careers, David Lott Hardy and James L. Turner had lots of mutual interests to e-mail about.

Including the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, chaired by Hardy, which was considering an application for a $2.9 billion project by Duke Energy Corp., of which Turner was second in command.

Three months after the IURC and the State Ethics Commission ruled out conflict of interest in the Duke episode, a new batch of e-mails obtained by The Star adds to the embarrassment that has ensued from that since-discredited finding.

May we hope the shame has reached a point of no return to business as usual?

Last month, The Star turned up e-mails between Scott Storms and Duke from the time Storms was general counsel to the IURC and was seeking a job with Duke. Laced with joking references to the ethics commission, the messages made clear Storms was not “walled off” from Duke’s coal-gasification case while at the IURC, as the ethics panel and Hardy had said.

After a re-investigation, prodded by the news media and consumer watchdogs, Gov. Mitch Daniels fired Hardy as IURC chairman and Duke fired the newly hired Storms along with its Indiana president, Michael Reed.

Still, the revelations of cozy personal connections between Duke and the IURC, which is supposed to safeguard the interests of Duke’s customers, pour forth.

In addition to chitchat about sports and shopping, the Hardy-Turner e-mails included IURC internal matters. Work figured in their friendship, after all; Hardy used to be a lawyer for Duke’s predecessor company and Turner is a former state utility consumer counselor. The question is: Has their friendship violated professional standards — and perhaps the law?

The FBI, as well as the Daniels administration, is looking into this and other relationships. Among other possibilities, the validity of the Edwardsport coal-gasification plant, already far along with $2 billion invested, hangs in the balance.

Beyond the immediate mess, there is the larger issue of IURC neutrality. The commission traditionally has been compromised by the revolving door between it and those it regulates. Without systemic changes in how it operates, and how members are appointed, scandal will remain a constant threat. Perhaps the blatancy of the latest disclosures will prod the governor and lawmakers to take corrective action. Certainly, the public deserves better than having to eavesdrop on its own affairs.

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