Two groups opposed to drilling off of Mississippi's coast are awaiting a judges decision on whether the state can proceed with plans to lease parts of the Mississippi Sound for natural gas drilling. MPB's Paul Boger reports the groups claim the state did not investigate the full impact drilling would have on the state's tourism industry.
Nearly 75 Mississippians crowded into a small courtroom in Jackson, yesterday, to hear oral arguments on whether the Mississippi Development Authority properly evaluated the potential impact oil and gas drilling would have on the Mississippi Sound.
Currently, the agency only evaluates the costs and benefits that seismic exploration and leasing would have on the Gulf.
Louie Miller is with the Sierra Club -- one of the groups suing the state. He says the agency is ignoring other studies because they show drilling would have a negative impact.
"A two to three percent loss of tourist revenue not returning to the coast because of oil and gas rigs is a net loss of revenue to the state." said Miller. "Regardless of using even the rosiest figures that Mississippi Development Authority has dreamed up."
Officials with the MDA declined to comment due to the ongoing nature of the litigation, but during the hearing the agency's lawyers argued they did not have the capacity to study the full impact drilling would have.
Stan Flint is a consultant for members of Mississippi's tourism industry. He finds MDA's argument hard to believe.
"MDA stands up and regularly touts what kind of impacts Toyota, Yokohama, and other industries are going to have on the state, and they seem very comfortable with those economic projections." said Flint. "I find it disingenuous that they can't make an economic estimate of what kind of discussing and actually leasing and providing rules for leasing oil and gas would be."
Sierra Club's Louie Miller says this case ultimately comes down to making sure everyone is following the law.
"They need to follow the law like everybody else." said Miller. "That's what this argument are in regard to, whether they did the due diligence and did an economic impact study and they clearly did not."
According to the MDA, most of the proposed drilling areas are at least one mile south of the state's barrier islands, and would not be visible from most populated areas.