By JACK WEATHERLY
After withholding the name of the keynote speaker for the Delta Council’s annual meeting last Friday, the group’s president revealed the day before that Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt was to be the speaker.
The council initially said that it was going to honor the White House request to keep the speaker’s identity secret.
But the Mississippi Business Journal and perhaps other news organizations may have altered the thinking of the group that promotes agriculture and commerce in the Delta.
The Bolivar Commercial, which is located in Cleveland, where Pruitt spoke at Delta State University, posted a statement by council President George King.
“In his one year tenure as Administrator, Scott Pruitt has taken bold and decisive actions to reduce the overreaching regulations that have been dictated by the agency over the past two decades. In doing so, he has brought back common sense and balance to the intersection of natural resource conservation and the economy,” added King, a producer from Chatham, Mississippi.
Pruitt and the EPA under Trump have been roundly criticized for their position, which they say is a loosening of unnecessary and costly regulations on air and water quality.
Some reports have stated that Pruitt has sought increased security for himself.
Chip Morgan, executive vice president of the council, said before the meeting in an interview that the White House “just told us that our keynote gets protection about anywhere he goes.”
Another Trump administration official, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, was the featured speaker last year.
Subsequently, Morgan said that the White House gave its permission to reveal this year’s speaker’s identity because it told “a group” about it before the council meeting.
The meeting was held June 1 on the campus of Delta State University at the Bologna Performing Arts Center in Cleveland.
The Commercial on Monday published statements from Pruitt made at the meeting.
“We are making tremendous progress for our communities all over the country for air, land and water quality while also reducing regulatory burden on American business to save over a billion dollars,” Pruitt is quoted as saying.
Under previous administrations, the EPA and other agencies have faced numerous lawsuits, followed by a settlement and a consent decree “and say to the rest of the country, ‘This is what you are required to do’ and they would bypass rulemaking altogether.”
“That’s an example of abuse. Stakeholders all over the country and in the Delta of Mississippi did not have any opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process, so we ended that practice.”
Morgan’s long career at the council will come to a close at the end of the year. He has been in his current position for 39 years, and with the council for 44 years.
Frank Howell, who has been with the council for 23 years and is the former director of the economic development department, will succeed Morgan.
Morgan said that one of the highlights during the nearly 50 years he has been employed by the council is the state four-lane highway system, approved and funded by the Legislature in 1987, which he said put a four-lane highway no more than 30 minutes away anywhere in the state.
Roads and bridges are still a priority, and the council has taken its position on that.
The council favors increasing the gasoline and diesel tax to raise the money for the state’s roads and bridges. He said that tax is in effect a “dedicated” fund and cannot be used for any other purpose.
“For 22 years, we had one of the top 5 highway programs in the United States after that program was passed.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve passed up some opportunities to reinvigorate roads and bridges. We’ve got more wooden bridges than any state in the nation.”
The Mississippi Economic Council, which is the state chamber of commerce, has maintained that the state needs $375 million a year to improve and maintain roads and bridges.
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