- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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July 6

The Greenwood Commonwealth on Mississippi Power Co.:

Mississippi Power Co.’s “clean coal” boondoggle is an ongoing disaster: humongous cost overruns, grossly missed timetables, construction blunders and, now, the possibility of criminal charges for misleading investors about the still unfinished experiment in Kemper County.

The New York Times dug into the mess that some Mississippi news organizations, including the Commonwealth, and watchdog groups have been examining for years. It delivered this week, in a detailed exposé, more damning evidence against Mississippi Power and its parent Southern Co., thanks to the cooperation of a whistleblower who took his story and his proof to the Times.

In addition to poring over thousands of pages of public records, the Times said it also reviewed previously undisclosed internal documents and emails and “200 hours of secretly though legally recorded conversations” that had been provided by the whistleblower, Brett Wingo. The engineer originally was a true believer in the project, which is supposed to generate electricity using lowgrade coal but with much less pollution than traditional coalfired plants. Then he realized it was a pig in the poke - a massively expensive undertaking, greased by political connections and thrown on the backs of the people in the poorest state in the country, that would never live up to the promises of the utility company’s executives.

Those documents and recordings, the Times reported, “show that the plant’s owners drastically understated the project’s cost and timetable, and repeatedly tried to conceal problems as they emerged.”

Just one example, according to the Times: In February 2014, with the plant already way behind schedule, engineers at the plant told upperlevel managers that the company should not promise to government regulators and private investors that the project would be done before the end of that year. The company did so anyway, publishing a schedule it knew to be false.

Wingo brought the deceit to the attention of Tom Fanning, the chief executive of Southern Co., who thanked Wingo and told him in a telephone conversation, “I plan to get to the bottom of this.”

Rather than coming clean, though, the company went into damage control, including trying to shut Wingo up. It offered him almost $1 million to keep quiet, sued him when he didn’t, and then fired him - a move that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found was illegal.

All of this has put the plant and Southern Co. in the crosshairs of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is investigating whether the publicly traded company misled investors in order to keep its stock price from plummeting as the writeoffs and bad publicity for the plant mounted.

Mississippi Power and Southern Co. aren’t the only ones who bear scrutiny for this $6.4 billion fiasco and counting. So do the Mississippi politicians who empowered it.

First, there was former Gov. Haley Barbour, who was beholden to Southern Co. from his days as serving as its highly paid chief lobbyist. Barbour signed the law that enabled utility companies for the first time ever to pass on the costs to ratepayers of building new power plants before they are completed.

Then, there was the Public Service Commission, dominated by Republicans at the time, that approved a project that was only partially designed when construction began and that was based on ridiculous financial projections.

This project started with a lie - that it could be costjustified. It’s no surprise the deception didn’t stop there.

Online:

https://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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July 3

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on Congress and private sector contracts:

Mississippi reaped the benefit of having the right contractor in the right place at the best time last week when the Navy awarded a to Huntington Ingalls a contract that would have a value of $3.1 billion for LHA 8, an America-class amphibious assault ship.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., praised the Navy contract for the America-class amphibious assault ship.

The initial contract of $272.4 million awarded Thursday will support the planning, advanced engineering and procurement of long lead time material for the LHA 8. Options for the contract include contract design support for the LX(R) class warship, which would be based on the San Antonio-class LPD amphibious warship built at Ingalls.

Cochran said the contract is significant and will allow shipbuilders in Mississippi to continue providing the Navy and Marines modern ships. It also opens the door for Mississippi shipbuilders to be at the forefront of designing a new class of warships to meet national security needs, Cochran said. Cochran is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense.

“Huntington Ingalls continues to produce world-class vessels that are essential for naval operations,” said Wicker, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower. Wicker said thousands of families across south Mississippi benefit from the construction and design of these state-of-the-art ships through employment and subcontracts.

Palazzo said the vessel will be one of the best in the world because it’s being built in South Mississippi at Ingalls. Palazzo serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

The funding was provided in the FY2016 Defense Appropriations Bill, which was signed into law last December. That measure included $477 million in advanced procurement, $199 million above the president’s budget request, for the construction of the LHA 8 amphibious assault ship. In addition, $250 million for advanced procurement was provided to accelerate delivery of the LX(R) class warship.

The bulk of the work on the $272.4 million LHA 8 contract, estimated at 44 percent, will be carried out at the Pascagoula shipyard. Construction on the LHA 8 is expected to be completed in 2024, which means seven years of direct economic benefit to Mississippi.

Building sips in Mississippi is not a new enterprise. The southeast region of Mississippi, which includes the Gulf Coast, is home to over 1,000 tier one, tier two and tier three defense contractors plus U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard bases. Approximately 55 defense-related manufacturers are located in Mississippi, and combined, they employ 21,000 people in our state.

National defense is the top national priority. It is also a major business from which our state derives exceptional investment and benefit.

Online:

https://djournal.com/opinion/

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June 28

The Oxford Eagle on the Mississippi Public Service Commission:

The Mississippi Public Service Commission will travel the state in July to brief residents on the addition of cellphones to the Mississippi No-Call Program.

While there is already a national no-call database, this Mississippi change will give residents an extra boost of protection from pesky telemarketers.

Residents will be able to register in whatever way suits them best, whether it is by mail, over the telephone or on the internet.

“We are committed to protecting the privacy of Mississippians and the enforcement of the No-Call list is paramount to that effort,” said PSC Chairman Brandon Presley, of the northern district. “Because many Mississippians use their cellphones as their only communication device, I am proud that we are now able to extend this program to protect them.”

In today’s world where cellphones are often the only phone a person has, it’s even more frustrating when a telemarketer is harassing you or a bill collector just won’t stop calling because he thinks he has the right person. This is just an extra step at protection and an asset.

Online:

https://www.oxfordeagle.com/

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