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Racial prejudice in the nuclear industry – the case of Claiborne County, Mississippi

Mississippi Taxing – Nuclear Power And Accusations Of Racism, Forbes,  Peter J Reilly , 14 May 17 Claiborne County,  Mississippi is home to the Grand Gulf Nuclear Generating Station operated by Entergy.  Having one of those things in the neighborhood is a little nerve wracking.  The Nuclear Regulatory Agency defines a plume exposure pathway zone and a larger ingestion pathway zone in the vicinity of the plant, in the event something goes really wrong. On the upside, a power plant could mean a lot of tax revenue and Claiborne County shows up on lists as one of the poorest counties in the country.

Only under Mississippi law a county doesn’t  get to tax a nuclear power plant.  The state taxes the plant and divvies up the money among counties in the plant’s service area.  Some residents claim that the reason for that law is that Claiborne County, home to Mississippi’s only nuclear power plant, has a population that is over 80% African American.  That was what the lawsuit Doss v Claiborne County Board of Supervisors was all about.  Spoiler alert – it did not go well for the disgruntled residents. As is common in these sort of cases, they foundered on the rock of standing.

Some History  Claiborne County has significance in the history of the civil rights movement………

Racism.  Voting rights legislation and enforcement had allowed African Americans to gain control of government in Claiborne County and the change in the law prevented them from having access to substantial revenue to improve infrastructure and spend on education.  In the wake of Brown v Board of Education white Mississippians had largely abandoned the public schools for segregation academies. Professor Crosby, who was the only white student in her graduating class at Port Gibson High School tends to favor the racism narrative, although she has not studied the power plant issue closely.

Professor Andrew Kahrl of the University of Virginia whose research focuses on “the social, economic, and environmental history of land use, real estate development, and racial inequality in the 20th century United States” has little doubt. A recent article by Professor Kahrl in “The Power To Destroy: Discriminatory Property Assessments and the Struggle for Tax Justice in Mississippi” in the Journal of Southern History included a discussion of Evan Doss Jr.’s struggle to clean up discriminatory assessments in the seventies wrote me:
“As someone who has studied the history of taxation in Claiborne County, specifically, and in Southern states, in general, I can say that the state legislature’s decision in 1986 to strip this majority black county of its taxing authority over Grand Gulf was racially motivated. As my article shows, white-controlled local governments in Mississippi had, for generations, worked to prevent tax revenues from being used to the benefit of black communities as well as shifting the burden of local taxation disproportionately onto black taxpayers through various forms of discriminatory assessment and administration.

During the Jim Crow era, these practices thrived because disenfranchisement had rendered white lawmakers unaccountable to black citizens. Upon passage of the Voting Rights Act and black southerners’ concerted efforts to register to vote and run candidates for local office, white lawmakers devised a variety of techniques for limiting the powers of new black officeholders and prevent them from doing their jobs. This was the case with Evan Doss Jr., who ran for Claiborne County Assessor in 1971 on the promise to restore fairness to a notoriously discriminatory tax assessment process, and, upon assuming the office, was thwarted at every turn by the white-controlled board of supervisors and subject to incessant harassment for, as he put it, “being black and doing my job.” The completion of the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station in the early 1980s promised to be a game changer for the county, in that it would provide it with much-needed tax revenue that could be used to provide vital social services for its impoverished population and improve its chronically underfunded public schools. By then, African Americans held most of the county’s elected offices and were poised to play a decisive role in the allocation of local tax revenues. The state’s unprecedented move to strip the county of its taxing authority over the power plant fit into this longer pattern of preventing black officials from playing a meaningful role in the distribution of tax revenues and limiting its use toward services that would benefit black communities. It was a nakedly racist move in a state with a sordid—and well-deserved—reputation for using the power of state and local government to oppress and exploit its black population and protect white political and economic power.….

The Current Case     After nearly thirty years, the claims of racial bias still have not gotten a hearing. …….

May 15, 2017 - Posted by | indigenous issues, USA

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