CHARLIE MITCHELL: When it comes to energy, Bryant is pro-diversity

By Charlie Mitchell

OXFORD – Somebody has to do the stuff that’s not sexy, the longer-term stuff, the stuff that will enable Mississippi to draw more job-creating investment that might actually break our increasing dependence on entitlements.
The good news is that Gov. Phil Bryant and majorities in the Legislature are taking actual steps toward positioning Mississippi as a leader in fossil-based and newer energy technologies. If Mississippi becomes a state with a reliable, ample and competitively priced energy supply during the rest of this century and beyond, our children and grandchildren will do better.
We’re coming off several weeks in the national spotlight due to presidential primaries. It was hard on Mississippians who love this state. We are made to feel defensive by the bleating repetition of statistics classifying us as poor, fat, stupid, beset by racism and determined to stay that way. Professional smugly self-righteous provocateurs, whose livelihood is dependent on demeaning people, are taken seriously when they should be ignored. What passes for national news is political fluff.
But that’s a rant for another day. This is about House Bill 1330, the Energy Sustainability and Development Act of 2012, passed unanimously in the House and facing no serious opposition in the Senate.
Bryant hailed it, saying “Mississippi has become a model for other states because of our success in developing both traditional and renewable energy sources.”
When it comes to energy, the media plays what should be a familiar game. We are steered into thinking the choices are one extreme or the other. Same as they do by positioning bleeding-heart, do-gooder liberals against gap-toothed, Bible-thumping conservatives, they “inform” us that we must be uncompromisingly green or we are rapists of the environment.
Bryant’s fealty to big business is well established. He seeks the favor of the moneyed interests behind Entergy, Mississippi Power. He has allied with oil and gas firms that want to expand exploration in the state and offshore. He glows (sorry) when he says the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station near Port Gibson is, or will soon be, the most powerful nuclear-fired electricity generator in America.
But he’s not picking a fight. Although he appears ready to face down a coalition of hotel and casino operators, citizens and habitat preservation groups who oppose allowing gas wells near the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, he’s for new “green” innovations, too.
“Mississippi is on the cutting edge of energy technology,” he said last week in Biloxi.
None of us is likely ever to live in an era when energy is (1) not controversial and (2) not essential.
Bryant seems to be fully aware of this, and he has been for a while. As lieutenant governor, he shepherded a super tax cut – from 7 percent to 1.5 percent – for companies seeking to use carbon sequestration in their processes.
This process, called “a potentially important tool for meeting our energy needs without worsening global warming” by the Sierra Club, captures carbon dioxide gas at plants that burn fossil fuels to keep it out of the atmosphere, usually by pumping it deep underground. But environmentalists are skeptical of Mississippi Power’s “clean coal gasification” plant in Kemper County, which would employ carbon sequestration and, Bryant suggests, inject them into existing oil wells to make them produce more crude. That project got thumped last week by the state Supreme Court. It’s down, but not out.
What is well-established is that, as with nuclear power, the future involves combining the green with the not-so-green to achieve optimum results.
As written, House Bill 1330 builds on the privately funded Mississippi Advantage initiative and has the state adopting a statewide energy assessment and development plan. It also calls for an inventory of power consumption in public buildings to be followed by an energy savings strategy for those buildings plus requiring all new buildings to be as “green” as feasible.
As a fourth tenet, House Bill 1330 creates the Biomass Center for Excellence, essentially a facility where engineers will figure out more efficient ways to transform waste of all types into renewable energy sources.
As occurs in other contexts, the camps on either extreme could just be allowed to bicker about energy. That means nothing will be accomplished. Bryant seems determined not to let that happen.
Good for him. If other states don’t keep up, Mississippi could shortly become the go-to place for economic development because it will have good energy sector jobs and plenty of energy for sale. And that would be good for all of us.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email cmitchell43@yahoo.com.