On April 19, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a Marion County judge’s decision to dismiss Energy & Policy Institute’s lawsuit requesting the courts to decide if Representative Eric Koch violated the Indiana Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Marion Superior Court Judge James Osborn ruled last year that the court could not interfere in the operation of the legislative branch.
In their ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court did conclude that the APRA does apply to the Indiana General Assembly. However, although this issue was never before the lower court, Rep. Koch and the Indiana House Republican Caucus argued that the law exempts “work product” of members of the General Assembly from disclosure. As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly can avoid disclosing the emails to the public based on the work product exemption. During oral arguments the attorneys that represented Energy & Policy Institute, Citizens Action Coalition, and Common Cause Indiana, requested that if the justices are going to examine “work product” the case should then return to the Marion County court where the plaintiffs could then make their case on what falls under the work product exemption.
Justice Rucker, as the minority vote, aptly put it: “The majority’s ruling is not only premature, but it unfortunately weighs in on a significant separation of powers issue without an adequate record.”
Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, said the ruling “shuts the door to transparency.”
The ruling comes 16 months after the Energy & Policy Institute filed its first request to review emails between Rep. Koch, Chairman of House Utilities and Energy Committee, and utility lobbyists over legislation that was regarding solar energy.
The legislation proposed by Rep. Koch would have lowered the amount of money solar customers get for selling excess power back to the grid, while also mandating that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approve high fixed monthly utility charges for all customers, regardless of how much electricity is used, and regardless of whether those rates are just or reasonable.
Once the legislation was introduced, it was reveled by the Indianapolis Star and Clean Technica that Rep. Koch has a financial interest in no less than 30 oil and natural gas companies and that he holds more than $10,000 worth of stock in fossil fuel companies such as Consol Energy, Cheniere Energy, and Spectra Energy – a clear conflict of interest because Rep. Koch has a financial stake in preventing the solar market from growing.
Additionally, data published by the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission reveals that in 2015 alone the Indiana Energy Association (an association of electric power companies and natural gas companies in Indiana), and utility companies Duke Energy, Northern Indiana Public Service Company, and Vectren Corporation spent a combined $634,000 on lobbyists.
Therefore, Energy & Policy Institute along with Citizens Action Coalition and Common Cause Indiana filed a lawsuit in April 2015 after Rep. Koch chose not to disclose his emails with utility industry lobbyists on three separate occasions.
This Supreme Court ruling is especially disappointing given the knowledge of how much money is spent by fossil fuel companies on lobbyists in Indiana. Unfortunately, the public will continue to remain in the dark when it comes to the affairs of their representative government.
Below is an infographic created by Citizens Action Coalition that highlights the fossil fuel industry’s influence with Indiana elected officials.