By Mary Margaret Halford
To former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, when it comes to discussing everything from jobs to national security in America, energy is a topic worth mentioning.
"The great news story in America today is energy," Lott said Tuesday morning at the 53rd annual meeting of the Southern States Energy Board. "Even while our economy has been struggling along, there have been great things happening with energy."
Lott was the closing keynote speaker at the two-day conference, hosted at the Beau Rivage Casino Resort by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who chairs the Southern States Energy Board committee.
"When Phil Bryant asks you to speak, you speak," Lott said before his speech.
Lott, who serves as co-chairman of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Energy Project, spoke of his time in Congress and suggested ways to see past party lines and work to get things done.
"I have been leery of how much we can do with alternative fuels, but my attitude is quit arguing over what we don't want to do and decide what we can do."
Lott said energy is an issue that matters to all Gulf Coast states.
"We've got to think beyond the boundaries of our individual states," he said. "If we look at our strengths and weaknesses across the borders in the South, we can achieve a lot more and learn from each other."
Earlier in the day, governors from North Carolina and Alaska joined Bryant on stage for a panel discussion about diversifying energy sources in the states.
"The lower the cost of fuel, the lower the cost of everything you use," Bryant said. "I fear the public isn't making that connection, but last time I checked, supply and demand still worked."
Bryant pointed out how a $1 difference in gas prices per gallon could affect an average Mississippi family.
"That might mean a family can go on vacation," he said. "We've got to personalize the message that low fuel cost can affect a family."
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he favors looking into such options as offshore drilling, not only because of the energy impact, but because of the economical impact.
"This isn't a partisan issue or a political issue," he said. "It's a jobs issue."
Bryant followed up by pointing out the technological advances being made in the industry and specifically how those advances relate to the BP oil spill.
"We want to say we have the technology to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said. "We can explore new opportunities to move ahead ... But we have to train our sons and daughters to take up energy jobs."
Alaskan Gov. Sean Parnell, who is not part of the Southern States Energy Board, was in Biloxi for another meeting relating to energy and took part in the panel discussion.
"We are in a pivotal moment as a country," he said in closing. "If we're willing to have policies that bring business here, we can bring new dollars here instead of sending them to other places. We can grow opportunities for Americans."
After the meeting, Parnell said he agreed with Lott in that solidarity among the states is a good start to moving forward.
"We feel like there's strength in numbers and better sharing of information," he said. "If we operate in isolation, it's like does the right hand know what the left hand is doing. We're making an effort for the states to work together."