Sierra Club Stops Coal Plant, Moves to Address Oil Spill
And it is a big deal that Mississippi Chapter volunteers and Club organizer Louie Miller prevailed in their tussle with the formidable Southern Company and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to stop construction of the Kemper County Lignite Plant and the leasing of nearby lands for strip-mining lignite coal.
Chapter volunteers rallied against the dirty, unnecessary, and expensive coal gasification plant, spoke at public meetings, and helped galvanize public opposition to the project through sustained public and media outreach.
Sierra Club attorney Andrea Issod played a key role in the victory by intervening in the "Certificate of Necessity" proceedings before the Mississippi Public Service Commission, providing expert witnesses and legal expertise to challenge assertions about the "need" for such a facility.
The 3-member Public Service Commission voted 2-1 in favor of the project. But thanks to pressure from the Sierra Club and other citizens who spoke out, the Commission placed a $2.4 billion cap on the amount of construction costs the developer, Mississippi Power, would be allowed to charge to rate payers.
Officials from Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Southern Company, said on April 29 that these conditions were unacceptable and they were scrapping plans to build the plant.
But what should have been a time to celebrate for the Sierra Club and all Mississippians who want clean energy turned instead into an all-hands-on-deck emergency as it became apparent that the April 20 explosion and collapse of British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was rapidly turning into an environmental catastrophe threatening the entire region.
"We have not seen the response we asked for," Miller said, noting Governor Barbour's downplaying of the spill the day before. "This is a disaster of epic proportions that could destroy the Mississippi Gulf Coast as we know it, from property values to our barrier islands. I don't think I'm overstating the case by saying this could be America's Chernobyl. It's a big deal, you all!"
Miller also appeared on The Ed Show on MSNBC, where he told host Ed Schultz that he believes the oil spill will be a "game-changer" for offshore drilling. "The debate over acceptable risk for offshore oil drilling off our coasts is over in my opinion. We were lulled into a false sense of security by the Sarah Palins and Newt Gingriches of the world that this would not happen."
Sierra Club representatives say there's no way to know the economic impact of the oil spill, but they estimate it will be in the billions of dollars. A 10-day ban has been placed on recreational and commercial fishing in a 7,000-square-mile area, and boating and tourism are threatened from Texas to Florida.
And the economic calamity doesn't even begin to take into account the irreparable harm that may be inflicted on the region's wildlife and coastal ecosystems. "For the fish spawning season, for juvenile pelicans and other nesting birds, this couldn't come at a worse time."
President Obama has announced a freeze on new offshore drilling leases until the BP spill has been investigated. And for the time being at least, the battle cry of "Drill, Baby, Drill!" has been silenced by the magnitude of the disaster.