Once nuclear waste begins to look like gold, Mississippians need to have a conversation about smart growth.
Willie Morris had a succinct and elegant line to describe Mississippi’s eagerness to do business with low-wage, high-pollution corporations : “Poverty is the handmaiden of economic colonialism.”
A headline in today’s Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal takes Willie’s point to its most absurd logical extension: “Jobs, funds make nuclear waste enticing.”
From Bobby Harrison at the DJ:
Communities in Mississippi have expressed a preliminary interest in storing nuclear waste on an interim basis and reprocessing it, members of the Senate Economic Development Committee were told Monday.
“You are talking about thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investment. We want to have a conversation,” Jason Dean, a private consultant representing the Mississippi Energy Institute, said of the proposal.
Wealthier states have the luxury of turning away jobs that don’t meet their environmental or labor standards. Mississippi’s leaders leap at any job we can get, even if it is literally attached to a pile of nuclear waste.
To be fair, we shouldn’t write off nuclear storage simply out of NIMBYist fervor. Few who have weighed in know anything about nuclear waste or how its stored. Our decision should be based on fact rather than reflexive disgust.
But the costs and benefits of nuclear waste should be weighed within a broader examination of Mississippi’s economic development strategy. Ever since Gov. Hugh White’s “Balance Agriculture With Industry” program in the 1930s, Mississippi has relied on the so-called “branch plant” model to lure low-skill manufacturing jobs to the state through generous incentive packages. In today’s era of low trade barriers and global competition, the price of admission is rising while the payoff is falling.
Recent evidence suggests that Mississippi’s corporate welfare system has already tapped out. Mississippi has not added a single net job since 1998 despite handing companies $416 million a year in economic incentives (New York Times). Much of that money comes in the form of tax breaks and infrastructure. Nissan alone has extracted over $1 billion from the state in tax rebates and cash transfers.
This model is inefficient and unsustainable. Mississippi should put its resources into improving schools and supporting home-grown businesses. It should increase support to universities and promote vibrant, dense communities that attract businesses and workers alike. The race to the bottom in branch plant recruitment threatens each of these durable paths to growth. Hopefully our leaders will realize it before Mississippi turns into a nuclear waste dump, figuratively and literally.