As of a year ago, about 30 states had a state-led initiative meant to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst-case, irreversible effects of global warming.
Mississippi, as much of the South, including Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and Georgia, does not have what’s called a “climate action plan.” Louisiana released its plan in 2022.
But soon, almost every state, including Mississippi, will have one thanks to recent financial incentives from the Environmental Protection Agency. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the EPA is giving states $3 million each to develop an initial climate action plan by March.
The plan has to include an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, a list of measures to reduce emissions over the next five years, and an analysis of benefits for low-income and disadvantaged communities. Then, by 2025, states have to develop a comprehensive plan detailing specific projects as well as long-term goals for reducing emissions by 2050.
The EPA is making another $4.6 billion available for specific climate pollution projects through competitive grants, but states have to apply for those by April.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, which is in charge of submitting the state’s plan, is inviting the public to submit ideas and feedback through a new survey on its website.
MDEQ Executive Director Chris Wells told Mississippi Today that the $3 million planning grant will go a long way towards brainstorming and pitching future projects, but was critical of the EPA’s funding process.
“The process they’ve laid out is very odd and convoluted, I’ll just be very candid,” Wells said.
He called it a “head-scratcher” to have a deadline for the $4.6 billion a year before the state has come up with its comprehensive plan, and also so soon after submitting the much broader, initial climate action plan. Wells added, though, that MDEQ, in working with other agencies and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, will still plan to submit what project ideas it has in hopes of getting some of the large pot of funding.
As far as the biggest greenhouse gas polluters, the director said they’re likely the same in Mississippi as elsewhere in the country: power generation and transportation.
“That’s not me casting shade on the power generation industry. It’s just that that’s a source of pollutants,” he said. “And then mobile sources. Particularly with all the economic activity going on, post COVID, things have ramped back up, and we’re back to pre-pandemic levels of traffic on the roads.”
The chart below shows a 2021 breakdown from the EPA of Mississippi’s pollution sources:
So far, MDEQ has a list of ideas for types of projects that could take shape with the state’s new climate action plan: increasing solar capacity, electrification of trucks and school buses, using biofuel, energy efficiency upgrades through building codes, refrigerant replacement, appliance electrification, forest carbon management, agricultural best practices, and capturing and electrifying methane from landfill and wastewater.
But Wells emphasized that MDEQ, with its limited capacity and authority, would need outside support to enact large scale changes, like changing local building codes.
“A big need for us is beefing up our (electric vehicle) charging infrastructure,” he said. “We’re not in a position to unilaterally implement a project like that, so we have to other agencies, whether it’s (the Mississippi Department of Transportation) or (the Mississippi Development Authority), and/or the private sector. I think the opportunity here for public-private partnerships is huge, because even if the government goes out and builds a charging station, someone’s got to maintain it.”
Wells said he hadn’t had any conversations with any lawmakers to gauge their interest in supporting such projects.
While there’s not a full inventory of Mississippi’s greenhouse gas emitters, the EPA does track data on the top emitting facilities. Below is a map of some of the top polluters in Mississippi, which are largely comprised of power plants and chemical facilities:
In addition to taking MDEQ’s survey, members of the public can e-mail project ideas to the agency at [email protected]. Wells said the agency will make the initial action plan due in March available to the public.
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