South Mississippians Concerned About Federal Energy Bill

Gulfport resident Lark Mason has spent the better part of the last year working with the12 Miles South Coalition to limit the state of Mississippi's push to explore coastal waters for oil and gas reserves.

"We are requesting that the state of Mississippi, no drilling take place closer than 12 nautical miles south of the Barrier Islands," says Mason.

But the new federal energy bill makes that no longer a state issue. Instead it mandates an inventory of all offshore oil and gas reserves, making exploration practically a given.

"They have just pulled an end run around us," says Mason.

Proponents of the bill, including nearly all of Mississippi Congressional Delegation say domestic exploration is a National Security concern that must be acted on now.

Even critics like Dr. Jeffrey Bounds of the Sierra Club agree with that assessment, just not the method.

"Doing an inventory is not a harmless process," says Bounds. "It's not a non invasive procedure basically. When they go out there and they essentially do the seismic test there all kinds of damage to wildlife and animal life in the areas."

But Bounds sees a greater threat in the bill, that makes locating a Liquid Natural Gas Terminal in the Gulf and elsewhere the federal governments decision and no longer the states.

"It means that a facility that's likely to be a very large terrorist target is something that we will have absolutely no say in," Bounds said.

The state will also get 31 million dollars a year from 2007 to 2010 for coastal restoration projects.

A plus that critics say fails to subtract from the downsides of this long awaited national energy policy.