Will Watson’s Letter to Barry Haywood, USM Center for Human Rights

From: William Watson <Wil.Watson@usm.edu>

To: Barry Haywood <Barry.Haywood@usm.edu>
Cc: “coastgreen1@yahoo.com” <coastgreen1@yahoo.com>
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2012 10:59 PM
Subject: RE: Occupy Biloxi


I’m not sure if our current campaign would fall into the category of human rights, strictly defined, or not, but I’m glad you contacted me. Here’s what we’re about. Occupy Biloxi is working with the Sierra Club and the STEPS Coalition to raise public awareness of the threat posed to people’s pocketbooks, health, water and air by Mississippi Power’s Kemper County Coal plant scheme. Let me lay our case here. 

We’ve taken to calling the Kemper plan a boondoggle because it so clearly epitomizes the detrimental impacts of unrestrained corporatism. It will be expensive, dirty and unnecessary. It will rip off ratepayers and harm the environment and make MPC shareholders a lot of money–whether it  works or not– while dumping all the risk on ratepayers and the federal government. It looks very much like a Mississippi version of the Wall Street crony capitalism that led to the crash of 2008. 

The residential ratepayers of Mississippi Power will see rate increases of nearly 40% in 2012 to pay for the construction of a highly experimental $2.88 billion “clean coal” plant in Kemper County, up by Meridian. This will be the largest single capital investment in the history of the state, and none of the capital belongs to Mississippi Power or its shareholders. About $300 million will come from DOE loan guarantees and grants, with the rest being raised by sharp rate increases on MS Power’s 190,000 residential ratepayers. Corporate customers, such as the casinos, Chevron Pascagoula and Ingalls-Lytton shipbuilding will be spared the increase. Mississippi Power is even charging ratepayers for the $11 million spent lobbying the state legislature to approve the plan back in 2009! 

Besides being expensive, the Kemper Plant will also be dirty. The plant will be fueled using lignite–soft coal–from a nearby, and gigantic, open cast lignite mine–with up to 40 square miles slated for extraction. According to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) filed with the DOE, the mine will have no protections against toxic run off. The same looks to be true–again, based on the EIS filed with the DOE–of the 500 acre ash dump. These pollution sinks are smack dab in the middle of the Pascagoula River headwaters and will thus pose a major water pollution threat to the Pas river–the last free flowing river system in the continental USA. The toxins also pose a risk to any number of threatened and commercially valuable species, both in the river and surrounding wetlands and eventually in the Mississippi Sound. Finally, the terms of the DOE loan guarantees stipulate that MPC only has to capture CO2 from its waste stream if there are commercial buyers for the effluent. If no buyers queue up to buy Kemper’s expensive CO2 waste–which seems likely given that nobody has ever tried to actually sell so much toxic waste before–the DOE will allow the plant to simply emit it into the atmosphere, about 5 million tons of CO2 and 80 pounds of Mercury a year, making the plant a major pollution source under the EPA.  

Finally, the plan’s expense is totally unneccessary. If Kemper comes fully on line it will produce about 590MW of power. The particular process being planned for the plant has never produced power on that scale anywhere in the world before, but even if it works, that output is dwarfed by the 7000MW that could be produced by the series of natural gas powered plants built by independent producers in the MPC service area back in the 1990’s. These plants produce power at only about 10-15% of capacity because MPC steadfastly refuses to buy MW’s from them, citing the “price volatility” of natural gas, a complaint rendered hollow by recent new nat-gas finds and increased infrastructure investment. The independent gas fired plants could easily handle any projected increase in base load demand, and cheaply, given that natural gas prices are at an all time low. 

The cooperation of CHR and its member organization could  be very useful to our initiative to stop this monstrosity. And your help wouldn’t involve students driving to the Coast. I’ve attached a very concise flyer on the Kemper boondoggle. If this flyer could be produced and distributed–on campus bulletin boards, through member organization meetings and e-mail chains–it would extend our reach considerably. 

Mississippi Power serves ratepayers in the lower 27 counties of the state. Further, smaller power co-ops buy much of their juice from MPC. Thus, this scam will harm the families and budgets of many USM students and staff. In the current moment of economic crisis and ecosystem degradation, the Kemper scam really does pose a human rights impact. And it’s happening right on our doorstep. 

Let me know if I can be of any assistance in your deliberations on this matter. I have a plethora of research on this question. My comrades in the Sierra Club and I have been researching it since the Kemper Plant was first proposed. Thanks for the chance to make my case, All Best, and Solidarity!

 Will Watson Ph.D

English Department, USM GC

Occupy Biloxi/Sierra Club


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