Enmity between Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and Clarion-Ledger Perspective Editor Sid Salter is obvious this week, as the two hammer each other over disagreements regarding the facts around a June decision by the Mississippi Public Service Commission, and the implications of that decision.
"You got a writer like that, they may rely on another article or go to some goofy blog, and they don't get the facts, and they're espousing errors," Hood told the Jackson Free Press today, adding that The Clarion-Ledger edited out his accusation that Salter "shad[ed] the facts" from a letter he sent them to respond to Salter's recent characterizations.
The controversy started with a July 8 column in which Salter wrote that "at the root of the current standoff over the PSC budget is a perceived political alliance between the PSC and Hooddespite the PSC denying his recent Mississippi Power motion. Who's kidding whom here? This flap is about partisan politics, not the best interests of utility ratepayers."
Hood wrote in a July 10 response to The Clarion-Ledger and the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that the PSC needs the additional staff "because the Public Utilities Staff has admitted that it does not conduct actual audits," and criticized power companies for using "its legislative and executive allies to weaken the commission's diligent efforts to fulfill its responsibilities to ratepayers." The attorney general included a sentence in his response that appeared in the Tupelo paper, but not the one that originates in Jackson: "Such clearly erroneous comments should lead readers to wonder if Mr. Salter's words are shading the facts."
"They didn't put that part in The Clarion-Ledger article, but they put it in the Tupelo (Daily) Journal," Hood said Tuesday.
Salter responded back to Hood's letter in a July 12 column, comparing Hood to "Kingfish, Huey Long," saying that he had touched a nerve, perhaps with the line: "Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood has sued Entergy over its rate practices and unsuccessfully challenged Mississippi Power's application for the clean coal plant."
"Yes, that line would set ol' Jim off," Salter wrote, Ӆ considering it was exactly the same assessment drawn in the June 10 Associated Press account of the Mississippi Power permit application by AP writer Timothy Brown: "The Mississippi Public Service Commission has denied two motions, including one filed by state Attorney General Jim Hood, challenging the application for a planned $2.2 billion power plant in Kemper County."
Both Salter and Hood accuse the other of being politically linked to their arguments. Salter referenced the battle between corporate-friendly Republicans and AARP allies among Democrats in the state Legislature who are pushing for more PSC staff to audit reports submitted by utility companies. Democrats argue that ratepayers will save money if new auditors scrutinize company reports, revealing fairer energy purchases, while Republicans argue the new staff, who are funded through utility companies' user fees, would ultimately increase monthly bills.
PSC commissioners say fees likely won't go higher than a few pennies a month, but could knock a few dollar bills out of ratepayers' monthly costs.
Salter references the timing of the new-employees battle and Hood's ongoing suit against Entergy Mississippi, in which Hood claims the company ignored cheaper fuel from competing utility companies in favor of more expensive fuel purchased from Entergy affiliates, and then passing those higher expenses onto ratepayers.
Hood claims Salter is mischaracterizing the PSC's response to a motion filed by his office to say to delay the application of Mississippi Power's proposed clean coal project in Kemper County, which Salter quoted the Associated Press saying it was "denied." He said that Salter's label of his motion as an "unsuccessful challenge" is inaccurate. "It was neither a challenge, nor unsuccessful," Hood said.
Commissioners refused Hood's motion to stay Mississippi Power's application for the proposed coal plant, but ultimately agreed with Hood that its approval process did not need to be rushed. They turned back the company's request to fast-track the application, and opted to hold a two-part proceeding, painstakingly investigating whether or not the state even needs the plant and whether or not it is cost-effective.
The $1.8 billion plant is one of the more costly ventures Mississippi Power has attempted inside the state. The technology is experimental, and commissioners are leery of a new state law allowing the power company to charge ratepayers for its constructionbefore it's builtwith no guarantee of a refund if the plant is never completed. Hearings are set for September and February 2010.
OK, this is pretty wacky selective editing by the Ledger.
From the original Hood column in the Daily Journal:
Mr. Salter's cursory comments regarding my "unsuccessful challenge" are factually incorrect.
It was neither a challenge nor unsuccessful. Such clearly erroneous comments should lead readers to wonder if Mr. Salter's words are shading the facts. The facts are that the commission followed a majority of the suggestions we made, which were simply that the commission establish a process for a prudent examination of requests made pursuant to the new law.
From the edited version of Hood's column in The Clarion-Ledger, verbatim:
Mr. Salter made cursory comments regarding my "unsuccessful challenge." It was neither a challenge nor unsuccessful.
The facts are that the commission followed a majority of the suggestions we made, which were simply that the commission establish a process for a prudent examination of requests made pursuant to the new law.
You can't make this up. Once again, the Ledger trips over its untied shoelaces.
I love the comment about going to a "goofy blog."
Yeah, that made me laugh, too. I think the definition, in part, is that they are run by people who refuse to do any reporting beyond Google and a little e-mail. ;-)