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IURC rejects Rockport hearing delay; Watchdog sought time to review emails to former IURC Chairman Hardy May 3, 2011

Posted by Laura Arnold in Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Uncategorized.
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Editor’s note: I find it fascinating that there are now two docket entries in this case in Cause No. 43976 on 4/18/2011 and 4/26/2011 entitled, “Tender of communications”. These docket entries contain emails addressed to IURC Chairman Jim Atterholt from members of the general public expressing their feelings about the Indiana Gasification project. Doesn’t that just “take the cake” in view of the article below? Laura Ann Arnold

Original article: http://www.mydesert.com/article/BG/20110503/BUSINESS/105030334/IURC-rejects-Rockport-hearing-delay?odyssey=nav%7Chead

12:00 AM, May. 3, 2011  |  

Written by Ted Evanoff
ted.evanoff@indystar.com

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission rejected a request Monday by a consumer group to delay a hearing on the $2.6 billion Rockport coal gasification plant after the group presented emails that it says raise questions about the IURC’s impartiality.

Citizens Action Coalition attorney Jerry Polk said emails were sent in 2009 and 2010 by Indiana Finance Authority head Jennifer Alvey to IURC Chairman David Lott Hardy. David Pippen, chief counsel for Gov. Mitch Daniels, was copied on some of the messages, Polk said.

Polk asked for a 30-day delay to explore more than a dozen messages, including one in which Alvey declared she wanted to “pick (Hardy’s) brain confidentially.”

State law generally prohibits substantive, private discussions on pending regulatory matters. However, some general discussion is allowed.

IURC Administrative Law Judge Angela Weber ruled the correspondence was permissible and noted that Hardy no longer is in a position to influence the commission. IURC commissioners backed Weber on a 3-0 vote.

Daniels fired Hardy in October after reports surfaced of ethical lapses. Hardy is accused of standing by while IURC official Scott Storms sought a job at Duke Energy and presided over major cases involving the utility while it sought approval for cost overruns at its $3 billion Edwardsport power plant.

In the Rockport matter, Alvey in 2009 and 2010 negotiated a purchase contract with investor Leucadia National. The IURC now must decide whether to approve the contract. It calls for the state to buy synthetic gas that Leucadia would make from coal at Rockport.

The state in turn would sell the gas on the national market and pass any profits or losses on to the 1.5 million homes, farms and businesses in Indiana that burn natural gas.

When the hearing on the contract opened Monday in Indianapolis, Polk requested a delay. He said he requested the emails under the Indiana open-records law, and they were handed over Saturday. He told the IURC the messages raise concerns about potential bias within the commission.

Weber responded that conferences like Alvey’s and Hardy’s have been routine and are meant to help educate officials. The three commissioners present Monday backed that conclusion on a unanimous vote. The three are James Atterholt, Larry Landis and David Ziegner.

Two of the five commissioners, Kari Evans Bennett and Carolene Mays, have recused themselves from the Rockport matter. Bennett came to the IURC in January from Barnes and Thornburg, a law firm representing Vectren in the Rockport case. Vectren, a utility based in Evansville, is on record opposing the Rockport project. Mays is related to a Vectren director.

The IURC is expected to rule on plans for the Rockport coal gasification plant this summer.

Call Star reporter Ted Evanoff at (317) 444-6019

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