Friday's news about a proposal for Mississippi to house the country's nuclear waste gives us an opportunity to peel back the onion layers of this situation to see why we're seeing such quick movement to approve this plan brought to us by the Mississippi Energy Institute.
First, we found out late Friday that a state Senate committee meeting on this topic will take place Monday which will be followed by meetings with industry leaders and Congressmen Nunnelee and Harper. Notably absent from the attendee list is Congressman Palazzo. The work will take place in his district so it is puzzling that he is not there to hear more about the plan. In one respect, it makes sense for Palazzo to not be there. Palazzo has gone on record that he is willing to risk a government shutdown if he can't get his way on health care reform. So, why Nunnelee and Harper? Nunnelee makes sense because he is on the House Appropriations Committee, the committee that will allocate resources necessary to help fund the project. As a reminder, this is federal spending we're talking about. Harper, well, I'm not quite sure what the three-term Congressman's purpose at the meeting will be. Perhaps his function will become clearer in time. Will tea party representatives be present at the committee meeting objecting to this expense of federal funds? If not, why not?
Second, a spokesman for Governor Bryant said that "the governor continues to look at other nuclear opportunities and is interested in learning more about this." Those comments are somewhat confusing. Has the governor been briefed on this issue? For a project of this magnitude, it seems odd that the governor hasn't been more vocal about it. The governor travels the state for ribbon cuttings whenever he can, but on this, he has been radio silent. The Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director, Brent Christensen, serves on the Board of Directors for the Mississippi Energy Institute. From the comments of the governor's office, it seems that Christensen has not met with Bryant on this project. It begs the question: "Is someone asleep at the wheel over there?"
Third, the project itself. In 2007, there were plans to use salt domes around Hattiesburg to store petroleum as part of the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Over the course of five years, 50 million gallons of water a day from the Pascagoula River would be pumped into a cavern to hollow out a salt dome. Again, that's 50 million gallons of water a day for five years. Once that water was utilized, that waste product would be transported back to the Gulf Coast to be dumped into the open water. Due to the large salination increase, biologists were alarmed that nothing could survive in such salty water. Fisheries around Pascagoula would have been hit the hardest as shrimp and fish die in the water or move off to less contaminated waters. In 2011, that plan was abandoned.
With all the work that had gone on between 2007-2011, why didn't Governor Barbour push to have nuclear waste moved to Mississippi once the petroleum storage plan was cancelled? Perhaps Barbour recognized that suggesting Mississippi store nuclear waste would be a fight that even he could not win. Yet here we are in 2013 with the same proposal and a different product.
Fourth, news of this story broke the same week that the Public Service Commissioner for the Southern District resigned. Coincidence?
This is a huge project with serious economic and environmental implications. We are the early days in what is likely to be a very nasty fight that will go well beyond partisanship. Scrutiny will only increase as the public becomes more aware, especially along the southern part of the state where this is relatively fresh on residents' memories. Will Gulf Coast communities be willing to place their own economies in danger for the benefit of this project?