I know that you've seen them in your local West Virginia newspaper (Ogden or otherwise). They are large ads, paid for by the Department of Environmental Protection and usually found in the classified section that detail certain kinds of air pollution permits. Ken Ward, Jr. in an article in this morning's Charleston Gazette-Mail tells us that that the Department of Environmental Protection is proposing the elimination of some of these ads:
Department of Environmental Protection officials are open to potential changes in their proposal to eliminate newspaper public notice requirements for some types of air pollution permits, DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said Monday.
The DEP is suggesting an alternative:
Instead of those newspaper notices, the DEP proposed to post permit applications and draft permits on the agency's website.
I would think that posting the notice on the Department of Environmental Protection website would save the state the cost of buying ads in state newspapers. I was unable to find the itemized expense for this in the DEP's budget but I would think that it would not be insignificant given the size and the frequency of the ads.
The G-M article tells us that there was a public hearing yesterday and speaking against the proposal was Don Smith who represented the state's newspapers' lobby group, the West Virginia Press Association:
Smith said that the DEP proposal would reduce the ability of average citizens to keep up with potential pollution sources proposed for their communities. Smith said the proposal would take the public notices out of general circulation publications and put them onto a website, a move that would require citizens to actively seek out the notices, rather than simply seeing them in their daily or weekly community newspapers.
The DEP's Huffman defended the proposal:
Huffman said that his air quality division’s staff believed that their proposal would actually provide the public with better notice and more information, by allowing them to sign up for email notifications for their home counties, rather than having to comb through the small print of legal advertisements every day or week.
There was additional opposition from the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization. I would recommend Ward's article if you are interested in the topic.
While I have no strong opinions on this proposal, I do think the Gazette-Mail did what a newspaper should do -- it provided background and explained the different points of view. Contrast that with this morning's editorial, "Keeping W.Va. Public in Dark" (note - no link available) and this afternoon's "Hiding Important Notices From Public" which do what Wheeling "newspaper" editorials frequently do -- they skip the objective basic news report so that the writer can present only material that supports the editorial's point of view and/or they suppress material that contradicts the editorial's point-of-view. For example, the afternoon editorial tells us:
there would be the concern about how the DEP posted such notices - easy to find or buried several layers within the website.
I guess that's worse than having it buried in the classified ads section -- a section most readers skip.
And the editorials ignore critical information that refutes its points:
But if the DEP has its way, that is the only way you will know in advance about plans for new or different air pollution in your area — by going virtually every day to the agency’s website and looking for notices.
Of course that's completely false -- that's contradicted by Secretary Huffman's earlier point about signing up for email notices -- something not mentioned in either editorial.
Most importantly, neither editorial makes any mention of the fact that Ogden Newspapers have much to lose if the proposal is put into place. The company owns nine newspapers throughout the state and this change in policy, if enacted, would most certainly cut into its advertising revenue and significantly affect the company's bottom line. (That's why I think they published two separate editorials on the same subject in today's papers -- something unusual for them.)
So is this an Ogden conflict of interest? Of course not -- like everything else they do, their editorials are just looking out for our best interests. Just ask them.
Note -- I'm still curious as to how much the state pays newspapers to run these ads. If you know how to find such figures, send me a link here. I would greatly appreciate it.