Ward Talks Energy at Mobile Chamber of Commerce Luncheon

MOBILE, Alabama – Mobile and Baldwin County's state political delegation must be "united" to make the region successful in attracting energy productivity to boost economic development, state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said Friday.

Ward, the keynote speaker before state, county and city officials at the Renaissance Riverview Hotel, said local officials need to be together in expressing a similar message and showing a sense of collaboration in attracting energy development to the area.

"You know what is best for Mobile than anyone else," Ward said during the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce's legislative luncheon. "Your political leadership from the city level, state level, county level and federal level means all the difference in the world in how you are perceived. Your energy economy has to be on the forefront of your overall economy."

Ward only briefly touched upon some of the local issues that have received publicity in the past year – an oil pipeline through the Big Creek Lake watershed, and the development of a coal terminal near Brookley Aeroplex – and said he wasn't going to give a talk on what local leaders "should do" about them.

But Ward emphasized during his speech that it's important for officials to avoid "knee-jerk" reactions to controversies involving the oil, coal, and natural gas industries.

He also urged leaders to utilize the resources provided at the Alabama State Port Authority in providing a prime location in the Southeast to export natural resources.

"If we ship energy to South America, you have to go to Mobile," Ward said. "You have the facilities. Don't let the facilities go to waste."

Ward, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the Alabama Senate, also promoted the Keystone XL pipeline and the Canadian markets for exporting natural resources. The potential storage and shipment of Canadian tar sands oil has caused controversy in Mobile in recent months.

"Why would we reject our neighbor's to the north?" said Ward, who also serves on the executive committee of the Energy Council and is vice-chairman of the Energy Committee of the National Conference of State Legislators. "We, as a country, are crazy if we don't trade with Canada."

He said by linking with Canada, the U.S. and Alabama has the potential to save on fuel costs while avoiding imported oils from Middle Eastern markets. He said by utilizing Canada's oil sands, it will help make the U.S. more energy independent by 2020.

Ward also criticized federal incentives to promote wind and solar energy, saying he felt that "unfortunately, it will never be a big part" of Alabama's economy.

Ward praised the Mobile state delegation, calling it one of the more united in the Alabama. But he urged local lawmakers to remain together on energy-related issues.

Local lawmakers agreed.

"Once (these energy issues) come to us, hopefully we can sit down and discuss those issues and still come out in a united front," state Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, said. "This is not the first time (the area) has had coal issues and natural gas issues and things like that. It's about how things were treated in the past, and the right way to go forward."

State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said most of the concerns about local energy projects in Mobile – from the Plains Southcap pipeline through the Big Creek Lake watershed to the development of oil storage tanks near downtown – are related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I think a lot of the uproar and hesitation now to go forward with energy projects is about what we went through with the BP situation," Figures said. "When we don't have the energy coming through here with the pipelines and oil (projects), we don't get to have the amenities that we do."

Figures said she felt the delegation was "moving in a direction of unity" with regards to energy-related issues for the region.

"When you get the facts and figures, that is where the conversation starts," Figures said. "Everyone wants to know the truth of what we're dealing with."

Ward, who's politically backed by Alabama Power, was asked to speak before the Chamber of Commerce's legislative luncheon in October, according to Ginny Russell, vice-president of community and governmental affairs with the chamber.

The Mobile chamber, within the past month, had been a vocal opponent to a 180-day moratorium proposed on oil storage tank development near downtown Mobile. The Mobile City Council voted recently to forgo the moratorium and, instead, decided to have more dialogue about the future of the oil industry for the next six months.

"It was certainly a timely topic," Russell said. "It's just timely that this issue has gotten so public here. There is a lot of community dialogue about it. It's important in that dialogue to understand the impact to the economy and jobs as well as the environmental impact. It's important we get the whole picture here."

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