The Clarion Ledger featured MEI President Patrick Sullivan as a guest columnist in their February 4, 2012 publiction.

A common fib in public debate today is we must choose between development and a healthy environment. This argument arises almost without fail in large infrastructure projects, industrial development, and, especially, energy projects.

The Keystone Pipeline project halted by the Obama Administration in January is an unfortunate example. After three years of extensive environmental review with a favorable result, the President decided, amidst environmental opposition, to delay billions in private investment and thousands of American construction jobs indefinitely, likely until after the election.

Closer to home, the Mississippi Development Authority has rightly released rules for offshore oil and natural gas exploration and production within Mississippi’s Gulf of Mexico property. An initial goal of this program is, through seismic testing, to determine the prospective areas for production and production potential. Unless exploration is allowed, the State of Mississippi will remain in the dark about how large or small of an opportunity this may be, in terms of jobs and revenue. Unlike the Keystone Pipeline, state government leaders will not let this long-term project be delayed by political whims, and hopefully, findings will be significant.

Through 65 years now, more than 50,000 oil and natural gas wells have produced energy for our country. About 3600 are still active. More wells sit in Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas waters. As with anything, accidents have happened, but the overall safety record is remarkable. The energy industry is an enormous part of the coastal economy and helps make up the diversity of this unique economy – energy, nature-based tourism, manufacturing, seafood, and gaming all coexist and are even dependent on one another.

To say that expanding one area of this economy, energy in this case, automatically takes away from another part of the economy, tourism, is simply not consistent with history. Some detractors of MDA’s rational program cloak their argument in anecdotal economics, but this only leads us back to the lie about energy development being incompatible with a healthy, aesthetic environment.

The truth is…if our goal is economic growth and opportunity, the right policy for Mississippi and for our country is to allow access and opportunity for maximum energy development. I don’t think anyone is expecting production off the coast of Mississippi to be a real game changer, but Mississippi should play its part. The launch of this program is consistent with an economic growth-based energy policy, one that’s focused on supply and building more energy capacity locally and domestically, including through conservation and efficiency.

The choice is not between energy and the environment. That’s propaganda. The real choice is between developing our assets responsibly or not.