Shutting Energy Out Is Selling the Coast Short

Shutting Energy Out Is Selling the Coast Short

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An Opinion Editorial by MEI President Patrick Sullivan published July 13, 2013 in the Sun Herald.

Life is a series of choices. For our state and country, important energy and economic policy
questions persist in the public debate. Our options are rather simple: we either produce energy
where it is locally available — and every place is local to someone — or we rely totally on
production from elsewhere.

A few myths commonly and effectively propagated in U.S. society today include “energy
production and tourism cannot coexist” and “development is at odds with environmental
stewardship.” These myths are most often spread by full-time critics or organizations offering
criticism with no practical alternative solutions. Always being against everything requires little
skill, and allowing these organizations to hinder progress hurts U.S. competitiveness and costs
money in the form of lost revenue and jobs.

The recent action by the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to oppose energy production in
state-owned waters indicates these elected leaders may not be looking at the full picture.
Hopefully, their viewpoints will improve. Very real and nearby examples in our neighboring
states of Alabama and Louisiana debunk these “either-or” fibs, and state law already prohibits
exploration and production in the Mississippi Sound. However, there are more compelling
reasons why energy production should be a major area of focus for Coast development.

Energy related jobs, on average, pay about twice the wages of the rest of the private sector with
oil and natural gas industry jobs outperforming the energy sector average. Because higher
household incomes correlate with a better quality of life, shouldn’t our growth strategy target
sectors both demanding significant employment and, importantly, paying higher wages to
employees of all skill levels? A strategy with this focus would be one based on community and
family sustainability with positive ripples into other areas of the economy, like retail and service
sectors.

Instead, public leaders too often buy into the propaganda that allowing energy production, like
offshore production, eliminates the option to specialize in one area, like tourism. This view is
shortsighted for the Gulf Coast. In today’s age of innovation and creativity, to think the economic
and ecological strengths of the Gulf Coast cannot all be leveraged together is regressive and
disingenuous. Seafood, manufacturing, energy production, tourism and a unique and improving
coastal ecosystem do coexist, and looking forward, wise utilization of natural resources can
result in new opportunities in all areas, bringing the needed jobs and revenue for a better quality
of life.

Unfortunately, comparing employment levels in the three coastal counties to pre-Katrina levels,
combined employment today remains around 10,000 jobs short of the summer 2005 mark. Of
note is virtually all the lack of jobs recovery is in Harrison County, while Jackson and Hancock
counties have been back to pre-Katrina employment for several years now. Rather than putting
all hope in the growth in one or two sectors, a more sophisticated and comprehensive approach
will return (higher paying) jobs and yield more wealth for the Coast.

One of the many strengths of Mississippians as a whole is rationality and the will to reason, thus
avoiding the impractical. Reliability, affordability, diversity and availability are the key
principles of a growth-based energy strategy. In its own economic interest, the Mississippi Gulf
Coast should not only embrace energy opportunities, but actively seek a greater role in the
energy economy. With more jobs and increased revenues, the winners will be Coast citizens and
communities.

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