Union Leaders Back Kemper Coal Plant

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State labor leaders have thrown their support behind a controversial Mississippi Power coal plant in Kemper County. It's a project they initially opposed but now say needs to happen for future growth.

"We believe the project needs Mississippi workers and the expertise of union labor," said Robert Shaffer, president of Mississippi AFL-CIO.

The plant is a $2.8 billion project set to go online by May 2014. It'll provide power to most of southern Mississippi from its location about 20 miles north of Meridian.

It's part of Mississippi Power Company which falls under the Atlanta-based Southern Company. David Newell, president of the Central Mississippi Building and Construction Trade Council says it's a crucial project.

"The Kemper plant would provide that secure, reliable energy our state needs," Newell said.

That hasn't always been the unions' position. They were once opposed to the plant, saying state workers were being overlooked for contract jobs. But now Newell says the trade council has struck a deal with the company to hire union workers.

"We have an agreement with the Southern Company to try to complete that project," Newell said.

That agreement is now turning the union organizations against the Mississippi Sierra Club, which was once an ally. The Sierra Club has opposed the project from the start saying it will cost ratepayers billions of dollars.

The Sierra Club is also criticizing former Gov. Haley Barbour for not disclosing his financial gains and lobbying efforts on behalf of Southern Company while supporting the plant.

Newell says the opposition is misguided and could cost workers jobs and ratepayers money.

"They are simply wrong and we urge them to reconsider their position," said Newell.

As opposition on the ground continues to make its way into the court system, both sides of the controversy say time will prove their concerns.

The director of the Mississippi Sierra Club, Louie Miller said, "The facts remain that the plant is going to result in a 45 percent rate increase for ratepayers and ultimately become a job killer, not promoter."