One of the ways the Indiana Department of Environmental Management informs the public that a facility would like permission to emit air pollutants is by publishing notice of air permits in newspapers. That’s a good way to let Hoosier residents know about a proposed action that would impact the environment and their community.
However, the agency is proposing to stop publishing such public notices in newspapers and instead post them only on the IDEM website.
We disagree with that idea because it’s not in the best interest of the public.
Publishing the notices only on the IDEM website would limit the reach of notification significantly. When dealing with matters that impact the environment and communities, the state’s goal should be to seek the greatest reach for residents to become well informed.
Most people do not visit the IDEM website daily. However, newspapers are read daily by thousands of people, making them an excellent vehicle for providing important information.
Notices published in newspapers contain all the information in an easy-to-find, easy-to-read format.
Websites aren’t always designed in a way that are easy to navigate, sometimes requiring multiple steps and searches to find the information someone seeks. Sometimes finding desired information requires online visitors to search databases, which can be a challenge for people who aren’t familiar with those types of searches.
Polling conducted this year by American Opinion Research for the Hoosier State Press Association showed that putting public-notice advertisements on government websites would result in a 60 percent drop in readership of the notices, and 42 percent of those surveyed indicated they would read public notices on government websites less often or much less often.
The survey also indicated that public-notice advertising is considered an important government function because of the public’s right to know. It showed that 63 percent of all Indiana adults say government agencies should be required to publish public notices even though it costs government agencies thousands of taxpayer dollars to do so.
If IDEM moves ahead with its proposal to publish notice of air permits only on its website, the extra work that the public will be required to do will make it less likely that they will learn about the notices. That would be unfortunate.
We believe newspapers — print and online editions — play an important role in disseminating the important information the notices contain, and should remain a key conduit for environmental information the public needs to know.