GRN and Sierra Club supporters leave Hinds County Chancery court following appeal arguments.GRN and Sierra Club’s appeal of Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA) leasing and seismic testing rules was heard by Hinds County Chancery Court Judge William Singletary on January 6th. In a packed courtroom, attorney Robert Wiygul argued that a plainly inadequate economic impact statement was written by MDA before they promulgated the rules. He further explained that MDA arbitrarily and capriciously pre-determined the decision when it had the discretion under the law to make an array of other decisions including limiting leasing and seismic testing to areas that wouldn’t harm scenic values and tourism.
MDA was willing to commit public trust resources (oil and gas reserves) without proper considerations on the effects of the decision on other valuable state assets such as revenue from coast tourism and charter fishing which rely on a scenic and inviting coast. MDA looked only at the plus side of the equation and avoided any negatives. There are plenty of negative factors (drilling rigs right next to Gulf Islands National Seashore – a National Park) to be balanced against MDA’s rosy predictions of mineral lease rentals and royalties.
31 Sierra Club and GRN supporters traveled by bus to attend the trial. Another dozen supporters met them in Jackson. Together they filled Judge Singletary’s court room. They listened together with television and print reporters, lobbyists, and MDA employees as each side stated their arguments. The state’s attorney had little of substance to present – he led with two stale procedural objections before making an argument based on the intent of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). He offered MDA’s cramped interpretation of the APA: that a state agency cannot second-guess the Legislature once it has voiced its will and that the economic analysis GRN and Sierra are requesting would somehow work against Legislative intent and unduly inhibit the way state government operates. (Never mind that the state Legislature also passed the law that requires economic impact statements before agency rules are adopted.)
It was a good showing by Robert who made clear and reasonable arguments on how a state should balance costs and benefits in the development of its resources, and particularly that a state agency should follow its own laws in adopting regulations. Judge Singletary predicted a quick decision on the matter.
For more on the issue of oil and gas in Mississippi's waters, click here.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN's Water Policy Director and works on Mississippi Water and Wetland Issues.