Miss. high court sets oral arguments in 2 cases

By Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court will referee two disputes during its November-December term.

One is between environmentalists and the Mississippi Public Service Commission over permission given to a power company to build a coal plant in Kemper County.

The other is a local brouhaha in Lafayette County over who is going to hold the purse strings of a north Mississippi drug court.

The cases are among dozens the Supreme Court will take up during the term.

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Dec. 14 in Jackson on the Sierra Club’s running dispute with Mississippi regulators over a decision that allowed a power company to start construction on a coal plant in east Mississippi.

In March, Harrison County Chancery Judge Jim Persons dismissed the Sierra Club challenge to the state Public Service Commission’s approval of the project in Kemper County by Mississippi Power Co. Mississippi Power has started construction of the coal plant.

The Sierra Club argued the PSC approved the plan without sufficient proof that the plant is needed and that customers will be charged reasonable rates for the power it produces.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups claim the project is dirty, expensive and unnecessary. The Sierra Club also opposes plans to pass over $2 billion in construction costs on to ratepayers.

Person’s ruling said while the PSC’s order “lacked specific findings on the balancing of risks … there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the decision reached by the commission.”

Mississippi Power is building the 582-megawatt plant near the Liberty community in Kemper County. It will use a process that converts coal into a gas that can generate electricity with fewer emissions than existing pulverized coal power plants.

The Supreme Court has also scheduled oral arguments on Nov. 29 in Jackson in an appeal by the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors from an order instructing them to not interfere with the operation of the local drug court.

On Sept. 21, 2010, Circuit Court Andrew Howorth, who started drug court in January 2008, filed a “cease and desist” in June against the supervisors.

Howorth claimed the supervisors had continually interfered with the operations of the circuit court, almost from the day the current board took office in 2008. He also ordered the supervisors to comply with all reasonable requests made by and on behalf of the drug court pertaining to its funding by Lafayette County.

Earlier, Howorth had decided that Lafayette County would have no more responsibility for administering federal funds for the drug court program. He shifted that responsibility to Union County.

The 3rd Circuit drug court serves Lafayette, Marshall, Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Tippah and Union counties. Court is held in Oxford.