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SI Resort CEO gives more details about potential project in D’Iberville

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www.wxxv25.com – Rick Gogreve – 2022-06-23 17:40:25

Yesterday, we told you the story about the potential Sports Illustrated Resort coming to the Coast. Today, we spoke with the resort’s CEO about the project and what else we can expect.

CEO Chris Schroeder tells News 25 this new resort will have attractions built for every person. He says one of the main attractions will be an 11-acre man-made beach called Blue Water Bay with crystal blue water and white sand.

Another…

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Welfare scandal: New asked for help before arrests

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‘Whipping child’: Nancy New asked highest officials for help before arrests in welfare scandal

In the days and weeks leading up to their arrests in early 2020, Nancy New and her son Zach New sought help from Mississippi’s highest officials to stop what they described as their persecution.

Private text messages obtained by Mississippi Today show the News reacting with a combination of hubris, a sense of betrayal and even confusion over their plight. 

The News had been in charge of spending tens of millions of federal welfare dollars in Mississippi, but the state didn’t hire their nonprofit to provide tangible resources to the poor. Instead, it was to run a private referral center, while the state would use the nonprofit as its piggy bank for projects it couldn’t find funding for elsewhere. 

In many cases, these programs occurred out in the open. The welfare agency’s partnership with a Christian ministry run by WWE wrestlers was written into plans shared with the federal government. A $5 million lease agreement that paid for construction of a new volleyball stadium under the guise that people in poverty would attend courses at the facility was included in board meeting minutes and approved by the Institutes of Higher Learning and the attorney general’s office. And Nancy New’s financing of a private pharmaceutical firm was explained in text messages that retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre sent to the state’s highest official, then-Gov. Phil Bryant.

That could help explain why the News seemed surprised to find themselves the subject of a probe that officials eventually called the largest public embezzlement bust in state history. In Nancy New’s many roles, she was often carrying out the vision of Gov. Bryant and his wife, Deborah Bryant. 

In her panic to shut down the investigation, Nancy New secured a meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, according to the text messages and a source with knowledge of the meeting. She seemed to hope that the federal prosecutor could provide her information about the probe. 

“It has passed [sic] time to turn the other cheek,” Nancy New wrote to her two sons the evening of Jan. 25, 2020. “First, though, we have [to] make it through this and get this stopped, get cleared of their harassment, etc. then we will go after them all. It will obviously take a lot of money and time but we may need to go on and file once we find out what Mike Hurst says.”

These never-before-published text messages shed light on the incredulous attitudes of the defendants and their last attempts to save themselves before the scandal broke. After Mississippi Today’s “The Backchannel” series published in April, the News pleaded guilty to several counts including bribery, fraud, wire fraud and racketeering under a favorable plea deal that allows them to avoid any time in state prison as long as they cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Still, the pleas were a massive fall for a family that had been so politically connected. 

Nancy New was such a close friend to Deborah Bryant that on the same day she plotted with her sons to “go after” her detractors, she lent some of her clothes to the First Lady to try on. Nancy New arranged delivery of the items to the house of the governor’s daughter, Katie Bryant Snell, in text messages with her son Zach New days before their arrests. In explaining the messages, Bryant’s public relations consultant told Mississippi Today that Deborah Bryant had told Nancy New she was getting ready for a trip and had nothing to wear. Close enough to share clothes, it’s unclear what the Bryant family may have discussed with the News about the ongoing investigation. Zach New and Bryant’s son-in-law Stephen Snell were also included in a friendly group message where the men mostly discussed sports.

At that time, the News were aware they were being investigated. They knew their nonprofit’s finances were in disarray. But they didn’t know they were about to be accused of embezzling more than $4 million in federal welfare dollars to use for their private school company and to make investments in Favre’s pharmaceutical venture called Prevacus.

Then-U.S. Attorney Hurst didn’t know it either, because even though the scandal involved federal funds and eventual charges of racketeering – which usually signals the kind of organized crime that the FBI investigates – the Office of the State Auditor made the initial arrests before involving the federal authorities. The auditor’s office carried out the preceding eight-month investigation on its own and turned to a local district attorney to indict.

The auditor who initially investigated the welfare case, Shad White, is a Bryant appointee and former campaign manager with higher political aspirations.

While the auditor was closing in on the News, Bryant was preparing to accept shares in Prevacus, according to text messages Mississippi Today first reported, the company to which Nancy New had illegally funneled welfare funds.

Hours after leaving office in mid-January 2020, Bryant promised to “get on it hard” in making connections for Prevacus. Within weeks, Bryant officially joined the consulting firm his daughter and former chief of staff Joey Songy recently formed.

Right up until the arrests, Bryant was consulting Prevacus and helping it secure an important investor who was one of the new firm’s clients.

The texts also show Favre had told Bryant that Prevacus was working with welfare officials and receiving funds from Mississippi. Bryant backed out of the deal after the New arrests.  

Prosecutors say the investigation is ongoing, but three years after it began, they have yet to publicly scrutinize the former governor’s deal with Prevacus. 

Though dozens of people received money they shouldn’t have, and dozens more played some role in funneling the money away from the poor, the auditor’s office and Hinds County District Attorney’s Office selected six people to charge criminally. Neither state nor federal authorities have arrested anyone else related to the scheme.

“Doug, Families First and we, are truly being railroaded,” Nancy New sent in a message in late January to Doug Davis, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s chief of staff.

In 2016, Mississippi Department of Human Services selected Nancy New’s nonprofit, Mississippi Community Education Center, and another nonprofit called Family Resource Center of North Mississippi to head up the rapid expansion of an anti-poverty program called Families First for Mississippi. With that came a cash flow of tens of millions of dollars in grant funds that they would use to carry out official state plans under then-welfare director John Davis, appointed by Phil Bryant. 

This included funding religious initiatives and rallies featuring famous athletes who were earning millions of dollars from the welfare department. Despite being included in official state plans shared with the federal government, these programs are now considered central to the biggest welfare spending scandal in state history. The money came from a ‘90s-era federal welfare program with lax oversight and a reputation for being a slush fund. Soon, the spending spun out of control.

In mid-2019, John Davis’ deputy Jacob Black and other employees gathered information about how John Davis was paying retired WWE wrestler Brett DiBiase for work he didn’t conduct and possibly double dipping the welfare department for a program run by Teddy DiBiase Jr. 

Black himself was instrumental in creating many of the questionable grants and the auditor recently served him a civil demand to repay the state $3 million. But Black was also the original source of the tip that Shad White has credited with toppling the scheme. Black took the tip to Bryant, who took the information to Shad White, according to MDHS officials, Bryant staffers and other sources. 

Shad White has maintained that Bryant was the whistleblower of the scandal, crediting the former governor for toppling the scheme.

Within a few months, the auditor’s examination of John Davis’ welfare spending led them to the New nonprofit. The auditor raided Mississippi Community Education Center’s offices in October 2019 and the Mississippi Department of Human Services restricted funding to the nonprofit, jeopardizing vendors who were relying on their reimbursement.

“Our lives and office have been turned upside down for over 3 months now and we deserve answers,” Nancy New’s other son, Jess New, local attorney and director of the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board, said in a text.

While he was never included in criminal charges, Jess New had his hand in business operations at the nonprofit and other MDHS offshoots John Davis was attempting to create, according to a recently filed lawsuit. The civil lawsuit, filed by MDHS, seeks $2.6 million in damages from Jess New, which is included as part of the $19.4 million the suit is asking from his mother. 

In early January 2020, the owner of Prevacus received a subpoena from the auditor’s office for documents related to the stock he offered the News in exchange for their grant funding, according to text messages and documents Mississippi Today obtained. On Jan. 15, 2020, Gov. Tate Reeves took office. 

In the next few weeks, the News scrambled to get information about the investigation and why they weren’t receiving payment from MDHS. They thought Phil Bryant and his newly appointed welfare director, Christopher Freeze, made the call to freeze their nonprofit’s funding before he left office. 

“PB and CF made the decision to freeze the money. Definitely looks like the organization and lord knows who else will be charged for something…..no idea what,” Jess New wrote on Jan. 25, 2020.

“Geez all the hard work just to be thrown under the bus,” Zach New responded.

Jess New told his brother that Christie Webb, the operator of the Family Resource Center, the other nonprofit that was spending welfare money wildly, had reached out to ask Congressman Trent Kelly to release their funding from MDHS.

Kelly’s representative Susan Parker told Mississippi Today in a statement that his office has “no knowledge of what happened between the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Family Resource Center beyond published reports.”

“After discovering there was an ongoing investigation into the Family Resource center, our office refrained from getting involved in this issue,” she wrote.

The north Mississippi nonprofit has since lost its MDHS funding altogether.

The News had also reached out to Brad White, who was heading up Reeves’ transition as his chief of staff. Zach asked his brother, “BW against us?”

“No he’s just in the middle,” Jess New responded. “They know it’s a f’ed up situation and PB’s the issue.”

Brad White told Mississippi Today that, to the best of his recollection, two groups reached out to the Reeves transition team, including people on behalf of judges who were using some of the funds to help children in the court system. The two nonprofits who ran Families First, Nancy New and Webb’s nonprofits, had been at odds with each other in the last year. The two nonprofits were also responsible for the programmatic side of a judicial initiative called Family First, which aimed to revamp the state’s foster care system by providing more preventative services. The initiative, headed up by Deborah Bryant, crumbled during the investigation.

“I know enough about things from my time at the auditor’s office that you don’t get involved in anything remotely involved with an investigation,” Brad White said. “I think it was like, ‘I wish you the best, and there’s nothing I can do.’”

Brad White said both the New contingent and the judges wanted help in unfreezing their funds, but that he told them the transition team could not help with that and that the new administration would follow any recommendations or guidance from the state auditor’s office on the case.

The News were left speculating what exactly they were in trouble for, who was against them and why their funding was cut off.

“Because we’re being investigated is why. We need someone to investigate the investigators and this BS investigation,” Jess New texted his mother on Jan. 26, 2020. “It’s a witch hunt and blatant harassment.”

In the following days, Nancy New took her associate David Kelly, a consultant for Oxford-based low-income real estate developer Chartre Consulting, to meet with Hurst. 

New’s organization had promised to provide classes and resource referrals to the residents of Chartre’s properties. The partnership allowed New’s nonprofit to increase the headcount of people served through Families First, but the program struggled to persuade residents to truly participate, Chartre Consulting owner Clarence Chapman told Mississippi Today. The services amounted to Families First hosting events where they gave away free hot dogs.

“It didn’t penetrate as much as we would have liked, but that’s just the nature of our residents and that income level. But they (Nancy New’s nonprofit) worked hard to get participation and I wish they’d still have this underway where it could benefit our residents,” Chapman said.

He sees the News as victims of Bryant and Davis’ vague plan to turn the state’s welfare system into a resource referral network instead of providing direct aid.

“It’s a shame the way the regulations are written to let the governor use the money like that and then poor Nancy, who was a very respectable person, has been abused by the system,” he continued. “She got way over her head and didn’t realize what she was dealing with and is the whipping child for a bunch of different reasons here and it’s destroyed her and her finances. And it’s sad, because she’s a good person … She appears to be used as a conduit to spread money and do what others wanted done with it who had the authority to do that.”

Someone with knowledge of the meeting said that Hurst, two assistant U.S. attorneys and an FBI agent met with Nancy New and David Kelly, and New’s attorney attended by phone. David Kelly initially agreed to an interview with Mississippi Today and then stopped responding to calls and messages.

If Nancy New chose to meet with Hurst in an attempt to avoid prosecution, it didn’t work. Instead, it tipped off federal authorities to White’s investigation and caused them to reach out to the auditor for more information. 

Then, Jess New got some new information.

“Don’t think PB suspended our funds….I’ll explain later,” he texted on Feb. 3, 2020, the day before a Hinds County grand jury handed down the indictments, referring to Phil Bryant. “Still may not hurt to reach out to him for any help.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Greenhouse gas: Petal plant emits half ton of methane hourly

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Every hour, this gas storage station sends half a ton of methane into the atmosphere

PETAL —The Petal Gas Storage Station lies halfway between the winding banks of the Leaf River and the International Checker Hall of Fame. It’s a warren of pipes, wellheads and metal buildings where noisy compressors pump gas underground and then suck it back up to the surface again. 

In the process, the Petal plant releases half a ton of a potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere every hour—more than any other gas storage facility in the country.

Petal is one of hundreds of underground natural gas storage facilities across the United States, where operators pump gas into underground salt formations, aquifers or depleted oil and gas reservoirs, storing the gas until it is needed.

Underneath the Petal plant lies a vast dome of salt nearly two miles in diameter that formed millions of years ago, during the Mesozoic Era, when other layers of rock pushed down on the surrounding salt formation until it was squeezed upwards into a bulging dome.

A gas company began hollowing out the Petal Dome, creating the nation’s first salt cavity specifically designed for natural gas storage in 1951. Today, eight artificial caverns carved into the Petal Dome store up to 30 billion cubic feet of natural gas, fuel that provides a critical backstop for the region’s fluctuating energy needs.   

The Petal storage plant is relatively small as gas storage facilities go: It ranks as the 41st largest underground gas storage facility in the country. However, its emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas, are far and away the highest of all such facilities in the nation.

In 2020, Petal emitted 4,947 metric tons of methane, according to reports submitted by the facility’s owner, Gulf South Pipeline, and its parent company, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The emissions were three-and-a-half times higher than the methane released that year from any other U.S. gas storage facility.

The Petal facility has held onto the dubious distinction of being the largest such methane emitter for each of the last five years, according to data the companies have submitted to the EPA. In 2020, three of the seven highest emitting gas storage facilities in the country were owned by Boardwalk and its subsidiaries. 

Gulf South and Boardwalk have begun to curb emissions at the Petal facility, cutting them in 2020 by nearly 50 percent of what they were in 2019, a year when Petal’s emissions were more than five times larger than any other underground gas storage facility in the country. Boardwalk executives said they slashed emissions again, this time by 54 percent, in 2021.  

The EPA has not yet verified Petal’s 2021 emissions. If they are correct, Petal would still be the largest methane emitter among gas storage facilities in the country when compared to the most current available data for all the others. 

The Gulf South gas storage facility in Petal.

The emissions are especially concerning because methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas that, unlike carbon dioxide, has an impact on climate change that is most acute in the years immediately following its release. Methane is 81 times more potent in warming the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.  

Over a 20-year time frame, emissions from the Petal storage station equal the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 87,000 automobiles, more vehicles than the population of Petal and its neighbor Hattiesburg combined.

The Petal facility’s emissions do not violate any state or federal laws, but they call into question the ability of the oil and gas industry to voluntarily curb its own climate pollution.  

Emissions from the transmission and storage sector account for approximately 25 percent of the total methane emissions from the natural gas industry.  A draft rule proposed by the EPA last November includes what would be the first mandatory methane emission reductions for existing gas transmission and storage facilities.

An environmental assessment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an expansion of one of the Petal compressor stations noted in 2019 that methane is not toxic, and that the compressors are not within 1,000 feet of any residences. 

But leading organizations, including the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Regan in July 2021, urging more stringent measures to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. 

“Extraction, processing, transport and distribution of methane all contribute to emissions, both of methane and of accompanying pollution like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic gases,” the letter said. “These emissions pose serious threats to human health, directly as in the case of exposure to toxic gases as well as the smog formed from VOCs, and due to methane’s contribution to climate change.”

In January, after the EPA published its proposed rule change that would impose stricter standards, dozens of Black church leaders in Mississippi wrote to Regan in support of the proposed regulation, noting that their communities are heavily affected by natural gas facilities. They called the proposed regulation an “important step forward.” 

Gerald Steele, an alderman in Petal whose ward includes the gas storage site, expressed surprise that the Petal plant’s emissions were the highest from such facilities in the nation. He said that the company is an important financial contributor to the city through its employment and tax contributions. But the news about the emissions, he said, was “really alarming.”

The EPA has historically sought to partner with oil and gas companies through the Natural Gas STAR program to help the companies voluntarily reduce their emissions. An EPA and industry report published in 2006 showed how a facility like Petal could reduce compressor emissions by more than 90 percent. The capital costs for such fixes were so low—several thousand dollars per compressor—that operators could recoup their costs in as little as a month through reductions in the loss of valuable natural gas. 

Boardwalk did not respond to an inquiry about the Gas STAR report. Although the company has begun to reduce its emissions, EPA documents suggest that as of 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, they had not followed recommendations made in the report.

Simple economics make the facility’s outsized emissions perplexing: Natural gas released from the Petal storage facility had a wholesale value of approximately $500,000 in 2020. That would seem to represent a needless annual loss in revenue for either Boardwalk or its customers.  

Boardwalk and Gulf South are gas transportation and storage service providers. They don’t buy and sell natural gas, but store it and transport it for others, an arrangement that could reduce some of Boardwalk’s incentive to fix leaks.   

“My guess is Boardwalk Pipeline [Partners] does have financial incentives to prevent leakage because they would be liable for losing their customers’ gas, although contracts often include a permitted amount of gas lost in transportation and storage,” David Lyon, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said.  

Boardwalk said Gulf South’s terms for lost gas can be found in a gas tariff document held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. However, as this article went to press, it wasn’t immediately clear which document they were referring to.   

Lyon, who spends his days pouring over emissions data and researching technologies and policies to reduce leaks from the natural gas industry, seemed baffled by why a company like Boardwalk would not have implemented such effective, low-cost fixes years ago. 

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Daniel Zimmerle, the director of the Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is an expert at quantifying and finding ways to reduce emissions from oil and gas operations similar to the Petal facility. But he, too, said he had no explanation for the facility’s high methane emissions.  

“It just seems really unusual,” Zimmerle said.

A gas pipeline marker near the Gulf South gas storage facility in Petal.

Emissions from leaky valves

The reason that Petal’s outsized methane emissions have persisted for so long—more than a decade after other gas companies and the EPA showed how they could be all but eliminated—might remain a mystery, but the source of the emissions is well-documented. 

Geology is not to blame.  Whether salt caverns or other rock formations are used, underground storage is highly effective at trapping natural gas under layers of impermeable rock that prevent the gas from escaping. A recent study found the daily volume of methane percolating through the soil near underground storage wells was 0.1 kilograms per day. That is less than the amount of methane that a cow burps in a 24-hour period. 

However, at Petal, “reciprocating compressors,” which use pistons to pressurize natural gas  for storage or to push gas through the regional pipeline network, were responsible for 99 percent of the 4,947 metric tons of methane that the facility released in 2020.

The vast majority of these emissions came from the compressors’ “isolation valves,” which disconnect the compressor from both the underground storage and the regional gas network when the compressor is not in use.

Compressors in a storage facility that provides natural gas to a region only during periods of peak demand can sit idle most of the year.  This is the case with the Petal storage station, where the facility’s compressors sat idle for nine months on average in 2020. 

But Petal’s isolation valves are leaky. Instead of shutting off gas completely when closed, the isolation valves allow thousands of tons of methane to pass into the facility’s idled compressors. Once inside the compressors, the gas escapes into the atmosphere through open “blowdown valves.”  

When Inside Climate News first inquired about the emissions from Petal in June 2021, Boardwalk Pipeline executives said the facility’s outsized emissions were a reflection of the site’s size and the role it played in the regional gas network. The Petal gas storage facility used a larger than usual number of compressors, not only to pump gas in and out of storage but also to push gas through the company’s transmission pipelines, they said.     

“When the total emissions reported for this facility are broken out on a per compressor unit basis, they are comparable with other companies listed on the same EPA report,” Jillian Kirkconnell, a spokeswoman for Boardwalk Pipeline Partners said in a written statement.

But an analysis of emissions data from Petal by Inside Climate News found that the gas storage facility’s emissions in 2019 and 2020 were more than three times higher on a per compressor basis than the emissions rate from individual compressors averaged across each of the nation’s top 10 methane-emitting, underground gas storage facilities. 

In fact, methane emissions from just one compressor at the Petal Gas Storage facility emitted more methane in 2020—2,355 metric tons— than the total methane emissions from any other gas storage facility in the United States that year. 

Releases of such magnitude, Zimmerle said, typically cause frost to form on the outside of the leaking equipment as the pressurized gas escapes.

“You should see that if you’re at the site,” he said of the frost. “It should be pretty obvious to them.”

Zimmerle said he initially questioned the magnitude of emissions from the Petal facility, noting that individuals who make the measurements and report the data at any site sometimes accidentally add an extra zero, unintentionally inflating emissions. But after seeing that the company had elevated emissions year after year and recently acknowledged its high emissions and the efforts it has begun to reduce them, Zimmerle said, he changed his mind. 

Boardwalk Pipelines did not dispute the data they reported to the EPA for 2020. In fact, in a sustainability report published last year, the company highlighted compressor emissions as a problem it is now working to address. 

The company also did not dispute the conclusions reached by the Inside Climate News analysis, that emissions from the Petal facility are much higher on a per-compressor basis than other similar gas storage sites.  

However, the company noted its 2021 reduction of methane releases from the Petal gas storage facility and that it reported these reductions to the EPA. Taylor Gillespie, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said the agency is still verifying emissions from 2021 that Boardwalk and other companies submitted earlier this year, and so could not verify the reductions.  

Even if Boardwalk reduced emissions at the Petal facility as much as they claimed from 2020 to 2021, the plant’s methane emissions would still be 60 percent higher than any other underground gas storage site in the country, when compared to the most current emissions data available for other facilities. 

A ‘workable solution’ ignored

In the company’s first sustainability report, released last year, Boardwalk noted that it is modifying and replacing older compressor equipment to reduce methane emissions.

“Boardwalk is continuing to take steps to reduce emissions across its systems and compressor stations,” Kirkconnell said.

She added, “a number of compressor blowdown valves and isolation valves have been repaired or replaced and procedures at the facility have been modified to minimize methane losses when units are not in operation. This resulted in significant reductions in methane emissions from 2019 to 2020 to 2021.” 

Climate advocates say the reductions are welcome news, but they add that it’s unclear why it took the company so long for those emissions reductions to begin.

The 2006 Gas STAR report emphasized as a “prudent operating practice” that operators should keep compressors pressurized when they are not in use, something the report states will reduce emissions by as much as 68 percent, at no cost, by eliminating isolation valve leaks. The report added that maintaining gas pressure on idle compressors can introduce additional safety concerns inside compressor buildings. But it also discussed precautions that could be taken to mitigate any added risk.

“There is no reason to believe it is not a workable solution,” said Zimmerle, of Colorado State University.   

Zimmerle said there are a number of different strategies that compressor operators can pursue to reduce emissions. For example, gas company National Fuel recently reported 95 to 99 percent emissions reductions on two of its compressors by simply replacing leaky isolation valves with new ones.   

Still, nearly two decades after the EPA-industry partnership’s report detailing its emission reduction strategies, Boardwalk and most other gas storage operators continue to depressurize their compressors, and report high emissions, when their compressors are not in use.   

“It’s been over a decade since EPA published this report and there are still these significant emissions,” Lyons, the Environmental Defense Fund scientist, said.  

A warning sign near the Gulf South gas storage facility in Petal.

 A proposed rule might make a difference

In its most recent annual financial report, filed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Boardwalk noted that failing to reduce its emissions could pose a risk to its business.

“Increased attention to climate change, environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters and conservation measures may adversely impact our business,” the company wrote in the report.  “Companies that do not adapt to or comply with investor or other stakeholder expectations and standards, which are evolving, or that are perceived to have not responded appropriately to the growing concern regarding ESG issues, regardless of whether there is a legal requirement to do so, may suffer from reputational damage and other adverse consequences.”

Boardwalk also noted that its emissions might soon be regulated under the EPA’s proposed rule to establish standards of performance for methane emissions from new and existing sources within the oil and gas sector, including gas transmission and storage. The agency is expected to issue a supplemental proposal containing proposed regulations “later this summer,” Joseph Goffman, the EPA’s principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said during a confirmation hearing last month. The agency expects to finalize the rule by the end of 2022.  

“The proposed rule includes several requirements relevant to our operations, including stricter emissions limits for various facilities and equipment (including pneumatic controllers, storage tanks, reciprocating compressors, and wet seal centrifugal compressors), more frequent leak detection and monitoring of fugitive emissions from compressor stations, and deadlines for repairing fugitive emissions,” Boardwalk’s financial report stated.

Lyon, of the Environmental Defense Fund,  said the rule will result in the reduction of  methane emissions by an estimated 60,000 metric tons from reciprocating compressors—the same type of piston-driven compressors used at Petal facility—at gas storage facilities alone. When measuring the climate impact over a 20-year period, that’s equivalent to taking just over 1 million automobiles off the road.  

Boardwalk noted in its sustainability report that it is an “active” member of the ONE Future Coalition, a group of natural gas companies working to voluntarily lower methane emissions across the natural gas supply chain. The group’s goal is to reduce methane emissions across the entire sector—from the wellheads of gas fields to the homes and businesses of end users—to less than 1 percent of total natural gas produced by 2025.

To align with this goal, Boardwalk will have to make significant additional cuts. Gas storage is a small subset of the gas industry and should make up a small fraction of the industry’s total emissions.  However, in 2020 Petal alone leaked approximately 0.6 percent of the natural gas it stored that year—a rate equal to 60 percent of the entire industry’s targeted emissions budget—based on the emissions and storage data Boardwalk reported to EPA.  

Danielle Fugere, the president and chief counsel for As You Sow, a non-profit shareholder advocacy organization, said the steps Boardwalk has taken in recent years are encouraging but that they still have a long way to go.

“You have to reduce your emissions to at least the level of other similarly situated companies, and even those companies need to do much more,” she said. “The first thing we would ask Boardwalk to do is to solve its compressor problems immediately, and then continue its work to reduce emissions year on year.”

This story was published in partnership with Inside Climate News, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that covers climate, energy and the environment. Click here for the Inside Climate newsletter.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

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‘An attempted coup’: Rep. Bennie Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

The eyes of the world were on Rep. Bennie Thompson, the longtime congressman from Mississippi, on Thursday night as the special House committee he chairs held a prime-time hearing regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Thompson’s bipartisan committee began laying out a seven-point case Thursday night they say will show former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat and keep himself in office.

“Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy,” Thompson said. “And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”

The committee showed dramatic video of how the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, led the attack on the Capitol. They also heard the emotional testimony of a U.S. Capitol Police officer who suffered a brain injury during the attack.

“What I saw was a war scene,” said Caroline Edwards, one of the more than 150 officers injured in the rampage. “I saw officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up … I was slipping in people’s blood … it was carnage, it was chaos.”

Before the hearing — broadcast live on nearly every major American network with the exception of Fox News — began, Thompson convened the meeting with a powerful speech.

Below is a transcript of his remarks.


“Thanks to everyone watching tonight for sharing part of your evening, to learn about the facts and causes of the events leading up to and including the violent attack on January 6th, 2021 — on our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

I am Bennie Thompson, chairman of the January 6, 2021, Committee. I was born, raised and still live in Bolton, Mississippi, a town with a population of 521, which is midway between Jackson and Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Mississippi River. 

I am from a part of the country where people justified the actions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try and justify the actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021. 

Over the next few weeks, hopefully you will get to know the other members, my colleagues up here, and me. We represent a diversity of communities from all over the United States — rural areas and cities — east coast, west coast, and the heartland. 

All of us have one thing in common: We swore the same oath. The same oath that all members of Congress take upon taking office and afterward every two years if they are reelected. We swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

The words of the current oath taken by all of us — that nearly every United States government employee takes — have their roots in the Civil War. Throughout our history, the United States has fought against foreign enemies to preserve our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

When the United States Capitol was stormed and burned in 1814, foreign enemies were responsible. Afterward, in 1862, when American citizens had taken up arms against this country, Congress adopted a new oath to help make sure no person who had supported the rebellion could hold a position of public trust. Therefore, congresspersons and U.S. federal government employees were required for the first time to swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

That oath was put to the test on January 6, 2021. 

The police officers who held the line that day honored their oaths. Many came out of that day bloodied and broken. They still bear those wounds, visible and invisible. They did their duty. They repelled the mob and ended the occupation of the Capitol. They defended the Constitution against domestic enemies so that Congress could return, uphold our own oaths, and count your votes to ensure the transfer of power — just as we’ve done for hundreds of years. 

But unlike in 1814, it was domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed and occupied the Capitol, who sought to thwart the will of the people, to stop the transfer of power. And they did so at the encouragement of the president of the United States. The president of the United States, trying to stop the transfer of power — a precedent that had stood for 220 years, even as our democracy has faced its most difficult tests. 

Thinking back again to the Civil War, in the summer of 1864, the president of the United States was staring down what he believed would be a doomed bid for reelection. He believed his opponent, General George McClellan, would wave the white flag when it came to preserving the Union. 

But even with that grim fate hanging in the balance, President Lincoln was ready to accept the will of the voters, come what may. He made a quiet pledge. He wrote down the words, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the president elect….” It will be my duty. 

Lincoln sealed that memo and asked his cabinet secretaries to sign it, sight unseen. He asked them to make the same commitment he did: to accept defeat if indeed defeat was the will of the people. To uphold the rule of law. To do what every other president who came before him did, and what every president who followed him would do. 

Until Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020. The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of a rigged system. It was not because of voter fraud. Don’t believe me? Hear what his former attorney general had to say about it, and I’ll warn those watching that this contains strong language. 

Bill Barr. On Election Day 2020, he was attorney general of the United States — the top law enforcement official in the country, telling the president exactly what he thought about claims of a stolen election.

Donald Trump had his days in court to challenge the results. He was within his rights to seek those judgments. In the United States, law-abiding citizens have those tools for pursuing justice. He lost in the courts just as he did at the ballot box. And in this country, that’s the end of the line. 

But for Donald Trump, that was only the beginning of what became a sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election, aimed at throwing out the votes of millions of Americans — your votes, your voice in our democracy — and replacing the will of the American people with his will to remain in power after his term ended. 

Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy. And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy. 

Any legal jargon you hear about “seditious conspiracy,” “obstruction of an official proceeding,” “conspiracy to defraud the United States” boils down to this: January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup. A brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6, “to overthrow the government.” 

The violence was no accident. It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power. 

Now, you may hear those words and think, “This is just another political attack on Donald Trump by people who don’t like him.” That’s not the case. My colleagues and I all wanted an outside, independent commission to investigate January 6, similar to what we had after 9/11. 

But after first agreeing to the idea, Donald Trump’s allies in Congress put a stop to it. Apparently, they don’t want January 6 investigated at all. 

And, in the last 17 months, many of those same people have tried to whitewash what happened on January 6 — to rewrite history, call it a tourist visit, label it “legitimate political discourse.” 

Donald Trump and his followers have adopted the words of the songwriter: “Do you believe me or your lying eyes?”

We can’t sweep what happened under the rug. The American people deserve answers. 

So I come before you this evening not as a Democrat, but as an American who swore an oath to defend the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t protect just Democrats or just Republicans. It protects all of us. “We the People.” 

And this scheme was an attempt to undermine the will of the people.”

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson, leading the public Jan. 6 hearings, has long worked to protect democracy

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Palazzo issues debate challenge – WXXV News 25

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-06-09 17:17:50

Runoff

, MS –  “It’s an honor to serve south , and it’s something I do not take for granted. I challenge Mike Ezell to a debate to be held under mutually agreeable terms before June 28,” said Congressman Steven Palazzo.  “Voters deserve to hear directly from both candidates and compare our records before the runoff.”

Regarding endorsements touted today by Ezell’s campaign, Palazzo said,…

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Mississippi’s history of lax abortion laws before Roe v. Wade

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The state fighting to dismantle abortion rights has a long history of permissive abortion laws

When Mississippi asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, it argued that a long tradition of state restrictions on abortion in the U.S. “defeats any claim of a deeply rooted right” to an abortion. 

Yet for all but 21 of its 156 years as a state prior to Roe, Mississippi law technically permitted abortion for any reason until about 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Mississippi Today could find no published scholarship on the history of abortion law in Mississippi specifically, and national histories on the topic generally make little reference to the state. 

This story is based on interviews with historians of abortion law and politics, stories published in Mississippi newspapers in the 19th and 20th centuries, books and articles about abortion law in the U.S., vital records held in the state archives, and a review of Mississippi laws.  

Decades after almost every state had banned the procedure at any stage of pregnancy, Mississippi’s law continued to follow the practice in place at the country’s founding: Abortion was a crime only if the fetus was “quick,” or had been felt to move, typically around four months of pregnancy. Mississippi did not update that law until 1952, though people were still prosecuted for abortions prior to that, usually in cases where the woman had died.

The role of abortion in the U.S. decades ago sits at the center of arguments about its future. In his leaked draft opinion, Justice Samuel Alito sided with the state’s reading of history when he wrote: “An unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.”

But if the Court’s final ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is similar to Alito’s draft, Mississippi’s legal restrictions on abortion today will become tighter than they have been at almost any point in its history. The state’s trigger law will ban abortion in all cases except those involving rape and a threat to the mother’s life.  A separate law passed in 2019 banning abortions after six weeks contains no exception for rape.

The evolution of state law after Roe in 1973 mirrors the national rise of the pro-life movement as a powerful force in Republican politics. A movement that was once predominantly Catholic and Northern became largely evangelical and Southern. 

A movement that was once on the defensive in Southern state legislatures, including Mississippi’s, began winning one victory after another across the South and Midwest. 

Mississippi, for decades an outlier in permitting many abortions, became in 2021 the state that asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. 

“If there’s a person in Mississippi who thinks that by virtue of these laws going into force after Dobbs, that we’re returning Mississippi to the good old days … they’re wrong,” said Aaron Tang, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis who has researched the history of state abortion laws. “The substantial history of Mississippi throughout its existence as a state has been basically what Jackson Women’s Health Organization is willing to do: a procedure up to 16 weeks.”

At the time of the founding of the United States, abortion was legal in every state until the “quickening,” following the English common law tradition. Because there was no medical way to prove a pregnancy until the fetus had moved, a woman could claim she needed to “restore” or unblock her menstrual cycle, and no one else could insist she was actually pregnant. 

“The popular ethic regarding abortion and common law were grounded in the female experience of their own bodies,” the historian Leslie J. Reagan wrote in her book “When Abortion Was A Crime.”

Mississippi passed its first law on abortion in 1839: “The wilful killing of an unborn quick child, by any injury to the mother of such child, which would be murder if it resulted in the death of the mother, shall be deemed manslaughter in the first degree.”

The law was part of an early wave of such legislation across the country from roughly 1820 to 1840. The historian James C. Mohr wrote that such laws were usually passed as a part of larger revisions to the state criminal codes; abortion itself was not a public issue.

Mid-19th century newspapers treated abortion as a practice that did not involve Mississippians – or, at least, white Mississippians. After the Civil War, as white Mississippians resisted Reconstruction and Black political empowerment, state newspapers sometimes presented abortion as a symbol of Northern immorality. 

In 1867, the body of an infant was found near the river Under the Hill in Natchez, partially buried in the sand, wrapped in an apron and tied to two bricks. 

“We sincerely hope that the abortion and child murdering mania which rages in the New England States and in New York to such a fearful extent has not reached us,” the Natchez Democrat opined. 

Racism was also part of discussions of abortion in Mississippi, as it was around the country. 

“Notwithstanding the North makes pretensions to all the purity of the land, and essays to look down upon the South in her barbaric practices, yet infanticide the most inexcusable and disgusting, as well as most horrible of all crimes, is of common occurrence there, while with us it is almost unknown, and when known is confined almost exclusively to the Negroes,” wrote a columnist for the Vicksburg Post in 1870. 

By 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, Mississippi was one of only three states with a law against abortion that nonetheless explicitly permitted it prior to quickening. (The others were Arkansas and Minnesota.) Six states had no laws on abortion. 

In the draft opinion leaked in early May, Alito claims that the remaining 28 states prohibited abortion at all stages, and thus that the Fourteenth Amendment – in which the court has located a right to privacy – cannot be understood to protect a right to an abortion. 

Other historians disagree with that claim. A brief filed in Dobbs by the American Historical Association reported that pre-quickening abortions were legal in 11 states and less heavily punished in seven more by 1868. Tang claims that the true number of states that departed from the common law tradition to prohibit abortion at all stages of pregnancy by the time of the Fourteenth Amendment was actually 16.  

And before the 20th century, there was no way to prove a pregnancy before the quickening, so abortion laws pertaining to a “pregnant woman” in practice were not always substantially different from laws that applied only to post-quickening abortions.

A Mississippi Supreme Court decision in 1898 rejected the idea that fetuses were people, citing the common law. 

A Pontotoc woman named Emma Prude was indicted for ending her own pregnancy under a state law prohibiting giving medicine to a woman pregnant with a “quick child” to end the pregnancy. The Court not only determined that the statute didn’t apply to a woman who ended her own pregnancy, but also wrote that “An infant in the mother’s womb … is not considered a person who can be killed within the description of murder,” even if the pregnancy was quick. 

However unusual Mississippi’s law was by 1868, it was much more of an outlier 50 years later. 

In the late 19th century, states continued to pass stricter abortion laws, largely at the urging of doctors and the American Medical Association. The movement was led by Dr. Horatio Storer, a Boston doctor who believed fetal life began at conception, and that abortion was murder at any stage of a pregnancy. 

Historians say the physician-led anti-abortion movement painted midwives, many of whom were Black women, as “abortionists” in an effort to position themselves as better trained and morally upright – and win over more patients. Storer was also concerned that white Protestant women were using abortion to limit the size of their families, while he believed recent immigrants, many of whom were Catholic, regarded abortion as immoral.

“Of the nine States that had not yet criminalized abortion at all stages (as of 1868), all but one did so by 1910,” Alito wrote. That state was Mississippi. 

In 1909, state lawmakers considered a proposal to ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy, which had been backed by the Mississippi Medical Association. An abortion that ended a pregnancy would be manslaughter. 

“An infant in the mother’s womb, whether viable or not, is hereby declared a human being,” the legislation said. 

Yet the proposal didn’t become law, for reasons Mississippi Today couldn’t locate. 

Mississippi legislators considered another total abortion ban in 1918 but would not actually pass one until 1952. 

The lack of a ban didn’t mean that abortion was universally regarded as normal or morally acceptable. But it did mean, as one dismayed headline in the Jackson Daily News in 1911 put it, “Abortion Not a Crime.”

The article explained that a group of physicians had investigated an alleged abortion and contacted local law enforcement. But they found that there could be no prosecution because there was no law against an abortion before “practically four months pregnancy.” 

People facing criminal charges for performing an abortion that resulted in a woman’s death could try to use this point in their defense. 

Dr. F. E. Lee, for example, never denied that the abortion he performed in 1916 had led to the death of a young woman named Mary Miller. Instead, he claimed the procedure hadn’t been a crime. 

At his trial in Corinth in 1920, Lee’s lawyer said that because Miller’s pregnancy was not “quick,” he had violated no law by performing her abortion and should not be held responsible for her death.

The prosecutor rejected that argument, but not that reading of the law. He acknowledged that the “original undertaking was not condemned by the law,” but said the doctor was still liable for Miller’s death.

Lee was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in the state penitentiary. But if Miller’s procedure had gone as intended, law enforcement would have had no grounds to get involved – making Mississippi an anomaly in the U.S. at the time. 

Late in the evening on July 25, 1945, a former policeman named B.J. Jennings heard a car speed over the bridge above his houseboat on the Pearl River, not far from downtown Jackson. He saw someone toss something out of the car and into the water. 

Later, he found a purse and pair of shoes in the river and called the police.

His call helped law enforcement piece together an explanation for what had happened to 18-year-old Betty Massey, a waitress at Abe’s Cafe who had been missing for days. Her body was found a few days later, floating in Rhodes Creek near Terry. Police arrested Dr. B.F. Johnson and said Massey had died in his clinic following an illegal abortion. 

Massey’s death became a media event. Her portrait ran on the front page of the Clarion-Ledger, where stories suggested she was a tragic symbol of the dangers facing young women during the social tumult of World War II. The newspaper reported that the father of her baby, a soldier, had written her “a nasty letter … in which he relieved himself of any responsibility.”

Massey, a white woman, was a “small-town girl working in Jackson,” and a member of “a prominent Delta family.” One story described “perhaps the most tragic point” in her death: Her boarding house at 313 State Street had been located just two doors down from the state office charged with helping unmarried pregnant women. 

Their case workers could have helped her “overcome some of her fears, dreads, and anxieties and face the reality of her situation so that the desire to destroy herself and others is allayed,” a representative said.

Some news stories about the doctor charged in Massey’s death mentioned that he had previously been convicted of manslaughter in the death of a Black woman named Etta Perkins following an abortion. Her life and case got little attention on its own. 

He had appealed the conviction and was out on bond when he performed Massey’s abortion, the papers reported. 

For Massey’s death, prosecutors chose a harsher charge — “depraved heart murder.” Johnson ultimately pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. 

By the time Perkins and Massey died, abortion in the United States – though illegal at all stages of pregnancy in most of the country – was becoming safer. Abortion was the official cause of death of about 2,700 women in 1930, accounting for a fifth of all pregnancy-related deaths that year, according to the reproductive rights nonprofit the Guttmacher Institute. In the 1940s, the development of antibiotics reduced deaths by making it easier to treat infections after abortion. In 1950, about 300 women died following an abortion. 

It’s not clear how many people died following abortions in Mississippi in the 19th and 20th centuries. Vital records held at the state archives did not list abortion as a cause of death until the 1920s, and in some years after that, all pregnancy-related deaths were tallied together. 

Mississippi Today reviewed records from 1927 through 1940 that showed abortion was listed as the cause of death for roughly 30 to 50 women each year. More Black women than white women died: In 1930, for example, abortion was the cause of death for 15 white women and 26 Black women. 

In 1952, the Mississippi Medical Association asked the Legislature to pass a stricter abortion law. Lawmakers obliged, prohibiting the procedure at all stages of pregnancy. 

The new law said someone who provided an abortion could be charged with manslaughter and sentenced to one to 10 years in prison. If the woman died, the crime was murder. The only exception was to save the life of the mother, and the law required two doctors to make that determination in writing. 

Pro-life advocates often point out that women were rarely prosecuted for their own abortions prior to Roe. Historians largely agree, but that fact doesn’t account for the public shame and pressure to cooperate with law enforcement women could endure during trials of doctors and partners, Mary Ziegler, a law professor and expert on abortion history, has written. 

Mississippi’s 1952 abortion ban didn’t explicitly prohibit such prosecutions. Mississippi Today found that at least one woman was arrested and charged with her own attempted abortion after she refused to cooperate with the investigation of two men involved.

In September 1962, Jackson police got a tip: An abortion was set to take place in a few days at a Travel Inn Motel on Highway 51, just outside of the city. Officers waited outside Room 152. They would later say they could smell a chemical odor, like a powerful disinfectant, wafting out of the room, and heard the clanking of metal instruments or furniture being moved. 

When they opened the door, they found a woman named Mary Ann Aiken hiding in the bathroom, covered in a sheet and holding her skirt in her hand. She was arrested for participating in her own abortion and taken to a hospital for a medical examination. 

Aiken, whose name was often spelled Mary Ann Eakin or Mary Ann Eakin Johnson, refused to cooperate with the authorities.

During the trial of Leo Hall, one of the men charged with the illegal abortion, Aiken denied she had attempted to get an abortion, frustrating then-District Attorney Bill Waller, who said he had a signed statement from her declaring otherwise and that she could also be charged with perjury. Aiken also said she was a prostitute and had had sex with Hall, who reportedly had ties to the Dixie Mafia, perhaps helping to explain why she would not want to testify against him. 

The trial for Aiken herself was delayed because she had to give birth – the abortion had not been successful. She pled guilty to the crime of attempted abortion. 

The state could also expend significant time and resources investigating suspected abortion providers. 

In May 1968, a Baton Rouge woman met a doctor in a Jackson motel room. After he agreed to perform an abortion and she handed him $200 in cash, Mississippi Highway Patrol agents who had set up the sting burst into the room and arrested him. 

He was eventually acquitted by jurors who were unconvinced that the woman had ever been pregnant.

By the mid-1960s, discussion of abortion nationally was intensifying. Feminists called for abortion to be legal and free. Professional organizations of doctors, attorneys and psychiatrists began arguing for more liberal abortion laws. 

The 1967 Mississippi Boys’ State convention – attended primarily by well-off white high school boys who hoped to become state leaders – passed legislation making abortion legal when the pregnancy could affect the mother’s mental or physical health and when the fetus would be born with a serious deformity. Though it wasn’t actual legislation, some observers saw it as an indicator of where public opinion was heading. 

“In a few years these same boys will be of voting age, and in the not too distant future some of them will hold real offices in state government,” noted an opinion columnist in the Hattiesburg American. 

In 1966, Mississippi became one of the first states to add a new exception to its abortion ban, allowing women to get an abortion if they said they had been raped. Unlike Mississippi’s 2007 trigger ban, the law did not require them to report the rape to law enforcement. 

Some of opponents’ points echoed pro-life claims today: that only God could make a decision to end a pregnancy, and that a woman who got an abortion could feel guilty later in life. 

Supporters’ main arguments were based on racist fears around sex between Black men and white women. The Daily Herald of Biloxi reported that the measure passed the House after a speech by Rep. George Payne Cossar of Tallahatchie, who told his colleagues that pregnancy could result from “rape between the races.”

“Are you going to force this poor woman to carry this burden?” he said. “This bill is designed to prevent disgrace in a family.”

As of early 1971, abortion was legal in five  states – New York, Alaska, California, Hawaii and Washington. 

That year, a Hattiesburg lawmaker thought Mississippi should join the list. Rep. Robert Lennon introduced a bill that would make abortions legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

“Abortion must be considered a medical procedure and a private one between a licensed physician and his patient,” he told the Clarion-Ledger. “It should not be a part of our criminal statutes.”

The bill provoked a furious outcry. Catholic leaders in the state urged their 90,000 parishioners to lobby against it. One opponent in the Legislature called it “a possibly well-intended attempt to legalize the murder of innocent babies.” 

The bill didn’t make it out of committee, and Lennon didn’t run for reelection. 

Two years later, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe provoked a more muted response in Mississippi. Religious leaders were split: Catholics and some in other denominations told local newspapers they saw the ruling as a sign of moral degradation. 

Rev. J.C. Harris, pastor of a United Methodist Church in Biloxi, called the ruling “wonderful.”

“I believe a woman and her doctor should do what she thinks fit.”

Man-on-the street interviews captured a range of views among ordinary Mississippians, too. Some echoed Harris’s perspective. 

One Delta valedictorian used her high school graduation speech to warn that Roe would lead to “garbage cans full of aborted fetuses.”

Some states actively resisted the high court’s ruling: Rhode Island didn’t have an abortion clinic until 1975. But Mississippi and most other Deep South states did not, said historian Daniel K. Williams, who has researched the pro-life movement. 

“In Mississippi at the time, the pro-life movement didn’t really have a very strong presence because in the early 1970s the pro-life movement was very Catholic and very Northern, and Mississippi had a pretty low Catholic population, considerably lower than neighboring Louisiana’s,” said Williams, a professor of history at the University of West Georgia. “So, as a result, it was somewhat unclear in the early 1970s which direction Mississippi would go on abortion.”

An editorial in the Greenwood Commonwealth published the week after the ruling sounded relieved to declare that the Court had “essentially resolved” the legal question over abortion.

“The Supreme Court has very broadly liberalized abortion law and in so doing brought years of controversy and litigation to an end,” the editorial concluded. 

Nearly 50 years later, the state of Mississippi would claim before the Court that Roe was “egregiously wrong” and based on a flawed reading of U.S. history.

Left unexplained was Mississippi’s own unusual place in that story. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Ray Liotta, ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Field of Dreams’ star, dies

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Biloxi - Local News Feed Images 011

www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-05-26 12:25:01

Ray Liotta, the actor best known for playing mobster Henry Hill in “Goodfellas” and baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams,” has died. He was 67.

An official at the Dominican Republic’s National Forensic Science Institute who was not authorized to speak to the media confirmed the death of Ray Liotta and said his body was taken to the Cristo Redentor morgue. The Hollywood Reporter and NBC News cited representatives for…

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Investigation about to wrap on gun at Gulfport Central Middle School

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www.wxxv25.com – Jack Hammett – 2022-05-19 17:32:33

The investigation into students at Gulfport Central Middle School who were suspended over having a gun on campus is about to wrap up.

Superintendent Glen East tells News 25 the individual students involved are being disciplined on a case-by-case basis.

The school district is limited on information it can provide about students and the case itself, but East assures us the investigation into the students’ conduct will…

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Tips to prevent and handle credit card fraud

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-05-17 17:34:39

Credit card fraud can happen to anyone at any time.

Here on the Gulf Coast, the Pascagoula Police Department is asking for the public’s help in finding two individuals wanted on credit card fraud charges.

Jennifer Stoakley is wanted for felony credit card fraud and Darius Ladd is wanted for credit card fraud.

In an effort to help you from becoming a victim of credit card fraud, News 25 reached out to Hancock Whitney Bank…

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State files lawsuit to recoup $24M in welfare funds from Favre, WWE wrestlers, 34 others

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State files lawsuit to recoup $24 million in welfare funds from Brett Favre, WWE wrestlers and 34 other people or companies

The Mississippi Department of Human Services is suing 38 people or companies for squandering welfare money that was supposed to address poverty in the poorest state in the nation.

The long awaited civil lawsuit, which intends to claw back roughly $24 million in federal funds misused in a sprawling scandal officials began to unravel almost three years ago, targets famous athletes Brett Favre, former running back Marcus Dupree, former linebacker Paul Lacoste, retired WWE wrestler Ted “The Million Dollar Man” DiBiase Sr. and his two sons, among others.

The lawsuit details bold disregard from officials and contractors for either effective public spending or for the people they were supposed to be assisting — actions indicative of a state government with a cynical approach to anti-poverty programs.

“I do not understand these people,” attorney Brad Pigott, who wrote the lawsuit, told Mississippi Today by email. “What kind of person would decide that money the law required to be spent helping the poorest people in the poorest state would be better spent being doled out by them to their own families, their own pet projects, and their own favorite celebrities?”

But two entities who received welfare funds through activities referenced in recent criminal pleas — University of Southern Miss Athletic Foundation and tech company Lobaki Inc. — do not appear as defendants in the May 9 filing.

[Editor’s note: A full list of defendants and a copy of the full lawsuit appears near the bottom of this story.]

Nancy New and her son Zach New, who ran a nonprofit that received tens of millions under contracts with the Mississippi Department of Human Services, pleaded guilty in April to several charges bribery and fraud charges related to how they used their nonprofit’s public funding. Much of the money was illegally funneled to other nonprofits or contractors, which were considered “second tier” recipients of the welfare department. The latest civil lawsuit pursues some, but not all of these recipients.

Nancy New admitted to defrauding the government when she paid Lobaki $365,000 to run a virtual reality program. Her son and the nonprofit’s assistant director, Zach New, pleaded guilty to wire fraud for transferring $500,000 to the construction of the physical virtual reality center. He disguised the expenditures as “lease” payments. Zach New also admitted to defrauding the government by transferring $4 million for the construction of the volleyball stadium at University of Southern Mississippi, which was also disguised as a lease.

MDHS originally told WLBT last October that its lawsuit would include the Southern Miss athletic foundation and Lobaki.

And yet, they were apparently removed during the drafting phase, because these recipients do not appear among the defendants in the civil suit filed Monday.

Pigott, the former U.S. Attorney who was hired by MDHS to craft the lawsuit, and the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, who is also on the suit, have not discussed their process for choosing which welfare recipients to pursue in the case. Many, but not all, of the defendants received demand letters last year from the State Auditor’s Office, the agency that originally investigated the case. The athletic foundation and Lobaki did not.

MDHS was ready to file this lawsuit over six months ago, shortly after independent auditors completed a forensic audit of the welfare program, according to media reports. But the attorney general’s office, which has authority over lawsuits filed on behalf of the state, had to give the agency the green light.

“We wanted this suit to be the best possible suit for the people of Mississippi and we weren’t going to work on any artificial timelines to get a final product,” Michelle Williams, a spokesperson the attorney general’s office, told Mississippi Today last week.

At the center of the welfare scandal is the state’s decision to contract with New’s nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center and another nonprofit called Family Resource Center of North Mississippi to run a state-sanctioned program called Families First for Mississippi. John Davis was the director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services at the time, answering to the governor who appointed him, Phil Bryant. Christi Webb ran the nonprofit in the north.

By 2017, the second year of Davis’ administration, the state was making unprecedented up-front, multi-million dollar payments to the two nonprofits. Most of the money came from a flexible federal block grant called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF.

The lawsuit seeks to establish that Davis and Nancy New agreed together to disregard federal laws that stipulate how states may spend federal welfare dollars. Davis would push millions to the two nonprofits, which used the funds on pet projects, and in exchange, the nonprofits would pay for things that Davis wanted, such as hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contracts to his family members and wrestler friends and luxury travel arrangements for himself, the lawsuit says.

“That illegal quid pro quo agreement and conspiracy between Davis and New resulted in all of the transfers of TANF funds for non-TANF purposes,” the lawsuit reads.

Mississippi Department of Human Services is asking the court for damages of $23.3 million from Davis and $19.4 million from Nancy New and her nonprofit. These figures represent many of the same expenditures.

But the lawsuit also asserts that the people and organizations who received funding from the nonprofits, who are named as defendants, are also liable because they knew they were receiving payment indirectly from MDHS, “which was not designed or authorized to donate public funds for the private enrichment of wealthy individuals or organizations.”

The lawsuit also says none of the recipients possessed special skills that would allow them to be paid as a contractor for the state’s anti-poverty program, and that they knew they were selected despite lacking experience or qualifications in TANF programming and without a competitive selection process.

The civil complaint represents just the first step of the state’s pursuit of repayment, and attorneys may amend the filing to add defendants when the discovery process is underway.

Circumstances outlined in the lawsuit echo Mississippi Today’s reporting in its investigative series, “The Backchannel,” including Brett Favre’s involvement in the use of MDHS funds to purchase personal investments in the pharmaceutical start-up Prevacus, which was developing a treatment for concussions.

Favre already knew that Nancy New had access to millions in few-strings-attached federal grant funds because he got her to pay $5 million towards the new volleyball stadium that the quarterback was credited with helping build at their alma mater University of Southern Mississippi, texts show.

Favre encouraged his business partner, Prevacus founder Jake Vanlandingham, “to solicit Nancy New to use MDHS grant proceeds to invest in the stock of Prevacus,” the lawsuit reads.

“She has strong connections and gave me 5 million for Vball facility via grant money. Offer her whatever you feel like,” Favre wrote Vanlandingham by text, Mississippi Today first reported.

This text came just two days after the two men met with then-Gov. Phil Bryant to discuss how to elevate and find funding for the company.

While the lawsuit highlights the Prevacus payments — which are also the subject of criminal charges against New and Davis — it does not scrutinize the role of the former governor Phil Bryant, who was also offered stock in the company.

During his last year in office, Bryant used his political influence to help advance Prevacus’ interests. The governor was set to accept the stock after he left office, texts show, but arrests derailed his arrangement.

These details do not appear in the initial civil complaint filed Monday.

The lawsuit describes the Jan. 2, 2019, meeting at Favre’s home, during which he, Vanlandingham, Davis and Nancy and Zach New discussed the deal. On paper, the parties agreed that the News would pay Prevacus $1.7 million in exchange for the promise that Prevacus would locate its clinical trial sites in Mississippi. Later, the News would funnel more money into an offshoot called PreSolMD, which Vanlandingham said was developing a preventative cream.

“That representation of that motive or purpose, for investing $1.7 million of TANF funds into Prevacus and/or PreSolMD, was false,” the lawsuit reads. “The written Agreement was a sham, as it concealed the material fact that the actual purpose of the transaction was financially to benefit Defendants Nancy New, Zach New, Jesse New, Jacob Vanlandingham, Brett Favre, Prevacus and PreSolMD.”

The New nonprofit also paid Favre individually $1.1 million under a contract with Favre Enterprises that required the athlete to “speak at three different public events, and one ‘keynote address,’ and that Favre sign autographs at events promoting MCEC itself.”

Neither Favre nor his company, the lawsuit reads, “ever performed any such speaking or autograph ‘services.’ Certainly no services were performed by Favre that had anything to do with the pursuit of lawful TANF purposes.”

The lawsuit asks for a $3.2 million judgement against Favre and $1.1 million against his company. It also asks for $2.1 million from Vanlandingham and his companies.

The civil complaint also chronicles how Davis’ brother-in-law Brian Smith and his nephew Austin Smith, the DiBiase wrestlers, friends of the wrestlers, Brett Favre and his pharmaceutical venture, and other football players came to receive millions in welfare funds.

While Davis was living at the same residence as the Smiths, he got the nonprofits to pay his sister’s husband Brian Smith or his companies over $600,000 in a nine-month span, including a $150,000 lump sum on his first pretend day of employment and $365,050 through a fake “lease” on a building that did not exist. Davis also arranged for the nonprofits to pay his 24-year-old nephew Austin Smith, who also lived at the same house, $426,397 over 17 months. They said he was teaching coding skills to needy students.

“He was not,” the lawsuit reads.

A Hinds County grand jury reindicted Davis in late March on new bribery and conspiracy charges. The new indictment says he acted in concert with or aided, among others, his sister, Twyla Smith, and her husband, the brother-in-law Brian Smith, but officials have not charged any of the Smiths.

After developing a close relationship with Teddy DiBiase Jr., Davis elevated the wrestler within the department and arranged for him and his companies to receive payment from the nonprofits, the lawsuit says. The wrestler received over $3 million in anti-poverty funds to, among other things, “address the multiple needs of inner-city youth,” the lawsuit reads, though he possessed no qualifications to provide TANF services. He received duplicate payments of $700,000 from each nonprofit, “but not in exchange for services actually performed by Teddy DiBiase,” the lawsuit reads.

“Teddy DiBiase, who spent most of his workday hours accompanying John Davis at MDHS offices and on trips, made no substantial effort to supply any such contractual services, either as an individual or through any organization or entity,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit says Nancy New’s other son Jess New, an attorney and director of the Mississippi State Oil and Gas Board, helped arrange legal entities for Teddy DiBiase so the wrestler could receive more welfare funds.

Davis also directed New to transfer $30,000 in TANF funds to the Northeast Mississippi Football Coaches Association, the lawsuit says, as a reward for the organization selecting Teddy DiBiase as its 2018 banquet speaker.

Teddy DiBiase’s brother Brett DiBiase also received duplicate payments from each of the nonprofits totaling $600,000 and “never performed services of any significance which served any lawful TANF purpose.” Brett DiBiase, who also went to a luxury rehab clinic in Malibu on the nonprofit’s dime and was paid as a contractor while he was there, is the only TANF subrecipient to face criminal charges. He pleaded guilty to fraud in 2020 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The lawsuit also alleges the luxury treatment center, Rise in Malibu, knew or should have known they were receiving funds illegally, and names the facility as a defendant.

Davis got the nonprofit to pay for his travel, including first class flights, a luxury hotel suite and a chauffeured limousine, to visit Brett DiBiase in California while he was in treatment.

The lawsuit says Teddy DiBiase urged Davis to divert $1.7 million in TANF funds to his father Ted DiBiase Sr.’s ministry called Heart of David. The department contracted directly with the ministry to provide services for eligible needy people. “After receiving TANF funds pursuant to those contracts, however, they substantially ignored all lawful TANF purposes (and all of the interests of all potential beneficiaries or lawful TANF services).”

Ted DiBiase Sr. used some of the money for his personal expenses, did not maintain any personnel files or a financial management system, and while his organization maintained a website, one of the only visible, public facing products of the program, “the website content was entirely created at MDHS expense by an employee of MDHS, as ordered by John Davis,” the lawsuit reads. Davis, Webb and Family Resource Center employee Amy Harris also arranged for the nonprofit to pay Ted DiBiase Sr. a lump sum of $250,000 for motivational speaking.

When he received the check, Ted DiBiase Sr. emailed his sons, “Look what I got today!” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit asks for almost $2.9 million in damages from Teddy DiBiase and the same from his companies, almost $2 million from Ted DiBiase Sr., $1.7 million from Heart of David, $824,258 from Brett DiBiase, $48,000 from his company Restore2 LLC, and $160,000 from Rise in Malibu.

The lawsuit says Teddy DiBiase Jr. also urged Davis to divert TANF funds to a consulting and management services contractor Adam Such. Davis got Webb to pay Such $250,000, the lawsuit says, to pretend to operate a “Center for Excellence” and a “referral network,” though “nothing of substance was expected of or delivered by Such.”

Davis similarly arranged for TANF money to go to Teddy DiBiase’s business associate Nick Coughlin, an aspiring actor and reality TV contestant who worked for powerful law firm Butler Snow and in the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office in 2020, though he is not an attorney. His degree is in business and marketing from Mississippi College, according to his resume. His resume says his skills are in marketing, brand management, economic development and motivational speaking.

Coughlin received almost $169,000 “to perform vague tasks such as having ‘conversations with industry leaders,’” the lawsuit reads, though he and his company “never engaged in any substantial activity … much less did they do anything toward pursuing lawful TANF purposes.”

Former linebacker and Jackson native Lacoste, described as “active in political affairs in Mississippi,” the lawsuit says, knew or should have known that Davis ran a government agency charged with assisting the disadvantaged when the athlete proposed the director divert money to his fitness program. His company Victory Sports Foundation received $1.3 million to conduct “fitness boot camps” in Flowood, Madison and , the lawsuit says, which were not lawful under TANF guidelines.

The lawsuit asks for $1.3 million in damages from Lacoste and his company.

Both nonprofits paid Marcus Dupree large salaries to act as a “celebrity endorser” and “motivational speaker,” and the New nonprofit effectively purchased and paid the mortgage on a 15-acre property in Flora in the name of Dupree’s nonprofit, Marcus Dupree Foundation, but which the athlete used as his private residence.

The lawsuit asks for $371,000 in damages from Dupree and his foundation.

The lawsuit also attempts to recoup funds from four other entities that it says illegally received TANF funds, SouthTec, Inc., Chase Computer Services Inc., Warren Washington Issaquena Sharkey Community Action Agency and Soul City Hospitality. Mississippi Today first reported that Jackson restauranteur Jeff Good’s nonprofit, Soul City Hospitality, received federal funds through a sublease agreement with the New nonprofit for a project that was supposed to turn “ugly” produce into meals for poor residents. The program fed no one.

The lawsuit asks for damages, plus additional awards for legal fees, from the following defendants:

  • John Davis ($23,256,224)
  • Brian Smith ($615,894)
  • Austin Smith ($426,398)
  • Nancy New ($19,403,504)
  • Mississippi Community Education Center ($19,403,504)
  • New Learning Resources Foundation Inc. ($6,513,393)
  • Zachary New ($2,100,000)
  • Jesse New ($2,654,221)
  • Magnolia Strategies LLC ($554,221)
  • Family Resource Center of North Mississippi ($3,852,720)
  • Christi Webb ($3,852,710)
  • Amy Harris ($250,000)
  • Brett Favre ($3,200,000)
  • Favre Enterprises ($1,100,000)
  • Jake Vanlandingham ($2,100,000)
  • Prevacus, Inc. ($2,100,000)
  • PreSolMD, LLC ($2,100,000)
  • Ted DiBiase Sr. ($1,971,223)
  • Heart of David Ministries Inc. ($1,721,223)
  • Ted “Teddy” DiBiase Jr. ($2,897,487)
  • Priceless Ventures LLC ($2,197,487)
  • Familia Orientem LLC ($700,000)
  • Brett DiBiase ($824,258)
  • Restore2 LLC ($48,000)
  • Rise in Malibu ($160,000)
  • Adam Such ($250,000)
  • SBGI LLC ($250,000)
  • Nicholas Coughlin ($168,733)
  • NCC Ventures LLC ($168,733)
  • Paul LaCoste ($1,309,183)
  • Victory Sports Foundation, Inc. ($1,309,183)
  • Marcus Dupree ($371,000)
  • Marcus Dupree Foundation ($371,000)
  • SouthTec, Inc. ($137,935)
  • Chase Computer Services, Inc. ($375,750)
  • Soul City Hospitality LLC ($200,000)
  • Warren Washington Issaquena Sharkey Community Action Agency ($49,190)

Many of the dollar figures calculated in the lawsuit represent overlapping debts, meaning the total the state could recoup from all defendants is roughly $24 million.

For example, the amount owed by Brett Favre, $3.2 million, includes the same $1.1 million owed by Favre Enterprises, so the total that the state seeks to recoup from those two is $3.2 million.

While Favre has returned $1.1 million to the state, the money is sitting in an account at the State Auditor’s Office, which means, for purposes of the lawsuit, he still owes the money to the welfare department.

Because the money flowed from Davis’ department and most of it through Nancy New’s nonprofit, the lawsuit claims Davis and Nancy New are jointly liable for the large amount that they and others illegally spent. If any of the subrecipients pay their damages, that would likely reduce the debts for Davis and Nancy New.

If the court assesses damages, the welfare department can force the defendants to disclose their assets and ability to pay to ensure the state recoups as much as possible. In cases where the court determines damages are owed due to fraudulent actions, the defendants will not be able to get rid of those debts by filing for bankruptcy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declined several interview requests from Mississippi Today about the welfare scandal, but it said in a statement in 2020 that it was waiting for the state’s investigation to conclude before attempting itself to claw back misspent funds.

John Davis and a young former procurement officer for the agency, Gregory “Latimer” Smith, are now the only people with pending criminal charges related to the welfare scandal. Smith, who is facing conspiracy, embezzlement and fraud charges, did not allegedly receive any of the funds himself. Hinds County recently charged Davis in a superseding indictment and the judge rescheduled his trial for Sept. 26, 2022.

Nancy New and Zach New, who pleaded guilty to separate federal charges for bilking public school funds for their private school, recently received plea deals in the state welfare fraud case. The deals ensured that they would receive no additional time beyond their federal sentence for their crimes in the welfare case. They agreed to cooperate with the prosecution.

None of the other civil suit defendants have faced criminal charges, which come with a higher burden of proof than civil charges.

Federal authorities have also not brought any criminal charges in the welfare scandal.

The U.S. Attorneys Office and FBI have declined to comment, but recent plea deals indicate their investigation is ongoing.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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