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Capitols and capital

"Capitols and capital" Continued...

The new plant is being built with the help of $270 million in U.S. Department of Energy funds that BGR helped Southern Company to get and then hold onto, after Florida officials said no to the building of a coal plant there. Critics of the new coal plant note that drilling technology has advanced in recent years and new supplies of cheap shale gas have flooded the market: The Department of Energy now says natural gas costs will be low and stable for years to come, making this coal plant economically questionable. If this holds true, the plant will have imposed significant costs on customers instead of saving them money as promised. Plant critics point out that Mississippi's Baseload Act makes it possible for customers to be charged for a power plant's construction even if it is never completed or never works properly.

Barbour spokeswoman Laura Hipp told WORLD that alternative energy companies must "meet benchmarks before receiving state funds" and must return the money if they violate their contracts. She said Twin Creeks now employs only 16 people but stated the company is only contractually "committed to employ 500 employees within five years." She said, "Mississippi Power's facility fits in perfectly with our plan to provide an affordable, stable fuel source produced in Mississippi for generations-not simply five or 10 years down the road."

Presidential candidate Rick Perry has interwoven politics and economics throughout his 11 years as governor of Texas. WORLD noted on Sept. 10, "Big donors to Perry's campaign have received support for their interests in low-level radioactive waste disposal, horseracing, poultry, new technology, and other endeavors. As one former aide said, 'Some fleas have attached themselves to the dog.'"

Many Perry donors have given hundreds of thousands of dollars and, according to studies by the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, and other newspapers, received subsidies and contracts for their businesses. These hostile observers have been unable to prove "pay to play" connections, though, because Texas government under Perry's watch has been so pro-business that many non-contributors have prospered just as much.

The Washington Post found the most frequent payoff, if there was one, was appointment to a prestigious board like the University of Texas regents. That's a tradition in Texas and other states, which is why conservative regents often enjoy their positions and do nothing to check liberal academic dominance.

The Los Angeles Times analysis found that half of the 150 large givers to Perry over the last decade-he raised $37 million from them-received business contracts, tax breaks, or appointments. For example, Joe Sanderson gave $165,000 to Perry, and his Mississippi-based company received a $500,000 grant to open a Waco chicken hatchery and processing plant. Unrelated, since Perry has made it clear, as one of his campaign commercials notes, that "Texas is open for business"? Related? Observers differed.

The biggest Perry donor, clocking in at $1.1 million, is leveraged buyout master Harold Simmons. One company he owns, Waste Control Specialists (WCS), received a license to construct the first new low-level radioactive waste disposal site in the United States in three decades.

Simmons, listed by Forbes last month as the 33rd richest American ($9.3 billion), told the Dallas Business Journal in 2006 that WCS was losing several million dollars a year, but approval of a license would give the company "a fantastic future." Simmons said, "We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license, and we did that. Then we got another law passed that said they can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied."

Simmons said his company had found in west Texas "a perfect site ... with perfect geology, and the people out there are all for it. The problem is with the bureaucracy. ... But we think the odds are highly in our favor that we will be able to work through the bureaucracy." His forecast was accurate: As the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2007 and 2008 considered whether to give licenses to WCS, Simmons met twice with Perry. The Commission voted 2-1 to give WCS a go-ahead.

The dissenting member, Larry Soward, told the Los Angeles Times that "the other two commissioners knew full well it was a very important matter to the governor's office." Perry did not reappoint Soward when his term ended in 2009. WCS is now poised to aggregate not only radioactive waste from 35 states but hundreds of millions of dollars. The ugliness or beauty of this decision is in the eye of the beholder: The Times saw undue influence, but Perry defenders say he cut through the bureaucracy.

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