Gambling with our future in Mississippi

Stephen Smith | June 8, 2009 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Policy, Extreme Weather

So while I don’t Twitter, I do want to share what I’m doing early this week.  I’m attending the Southern Growth Policies Board 37th Annual Conference in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The title of the conference is called Southern Energy: Abundant, Affordable and American and is happening in a surreal environment — the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino on the gulf coast of Mississippi.

The conference lead sponsors are Southern Company and Chevron. The true irony is that this conference is happening with a backdrop of both a community struggling to recover from the devastation caused by a 30 foot storm surge during Hurricane Katrina and a casino resort with hundreds of people and blinking machines in large, smoke-filled rooms seeking the elusive jackpot. In this setting, the Policies Board has assembled a long list of people to speak against renewable energy and energy and climate policy of the new administration and Congress.

Speakers include Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, Southern Company CEO David Ratcliffe, Margo Thorning of the American Council for Capital Formation, and Jerry Taylor of Cato Institute (See agenda).  The tone of the first day was distinctly pro-coal and pro-nuclear and largely hostile of renewable energy. Gov. Barbour, after commenting on the devastation of the hurricane, launched into an attack on climate policy calling cap and trade ‘a tax that will damage our economy’ and ignored Mississippi’s large biomass potential by calling the renewable energy standard ‘a tax on Mississippi.’

Next up: Southern’s Ratcliffe made the case that the climate and energy policy is a conspiracy of the Northeast and the West Coast to drive the cost of electric power up in the South to slow southern economic development.   He did lip service to energy efficiency, spoke of his company’s limited research and development of renewables and then bragged about Southern Co.’s commitment to new coal and nuclear development. He highlighted Southern Company’s reserve margin and transmission infrastructure.

One of Ratcliffe’s statements was his praise of the political and regulatory environment in the four southern states that his company operates. Ratcliffe described the largely utility-captive state regulatory agencies (Pubic Service Commissions, PSCs) as having “balanced outcomes with common sense.” He went on to describe the past few years of results from the rulings by state PSCs as “stellar.” This is not surprising as Southern Company has largely eliminated independent utility regulation over their operations by using ratepayer-based profits to influence the political process on the selection or election of PSC commissioners. Ratcliffe closed with the statement that “carbon issues can not be resolved quickly nor cheaply.”  Other speakers continued to offer one-sided criticism of renewable energy and climate policy.

All in all, it was a view of the world that says the Southeast has it right by being highly dependent on coal and nuclear, that new renewable technologies are largely fantasy, and policies to address global warming are attacks by the “lunatic fringe” East and West Coast to ruin the economics of the South. This paranoid worldview ignores the science that is driving the policy on climate change and views everyone’s motivations in terms of short term profit over long term health and viability. The irony is holding this one-sided conference attacking action on climate policy at a casino on the hurricane ravaged Gulf coast shows just how much these players are willing to gamble in an effort to hang on to the status quo.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has 30 years of experience effecting change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as its executive…
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