EPA revokes approval of Mississippi Yazoo Pumps Project

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JACKSON, miss. (AP) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it had revoked approval of a massive flood control project in the southern Mississippi Delta that officials said was falsely given the green light to the Trump administration in the last few days.

In a letter to the Army for Civil Works, EPA officials said the previous government’s decision in November 2020 to approve the Yazoo Pump Project violated the Clean Water Act and “did not comply with the recommendations of career scientists and technical staff reflected ”.

Radhika Fox, deputy administrator of the Department of Waterways at the EPA, said the federal government was concerned about the severe impact of the floods on the people and economy of the Lower Mississippi Delta. But she said she wants to work with the Corps and others to “find a way forward that addresses flood concerns in an environmentally sound way.”

The decision was cheered by conservation groups – American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and Healthy Gulf – who called the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year for building pumps in the Yazoo backwater -Area north of Vicksburg.

Stu Gillespie, an attorney for Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that represents the conservation groups, said the decision was “a strong confirmation that science and law, not politics, will ultimately prevail.”

“The EPA’s decision upholds the bedrock environmental laws and restores vital protections to some of the nation’s richest wetlands,” Gillespie said on Wednesday.

The Mississippi Republican leadership condemned the decision.

US Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith said in a statement that it will be “an absolutely terrible day for the people who live in the Mississippi Delta, and an even sadder day for the country if an agency like the EPA refuses to do the right thing.” for people to do persons. ”

“This EPA action is an abuse of power and couldn’t be more arbitrary or capricious,” she said. “It also opens the door to a wide variety of legal issues that should and likely will be questioned.”

US Senator Roger Wicker said he was “deeply frustrated” with the decision and said it would “put people in the southern Mississippi Delta at risk”.

“Today’s measures mean roads will remain impassable, deer and other wildlife will die, hypoxia kill fish, small businesses will close, and residents will continue to be forced to leave their homes,” said Wicker.

He said the vast majority of people affected by the project are black, adding “it amounts to an environmental injustice”.

Farmers and environmentalists have been arguing about proposals for flood protection projects in the southern delta for decades.

The plains between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers are dominated by agriculture and dotted with small communities. The area has flooded for nine of the last 10 years. Among those floods in 2019 was a flood lasting several months.

The Yazoo Pumps project would have included building a 14,000 cubic foot per second pumping facility in the Yazoo Backwater Area to divert water, mainly from low-lying farmland, during floods.

The EPA vetoed one version of the proposed pump project in 2008. But Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s administrator appointed by former President Donald Trump, said in April that the EPA would reconsider that decision. A regional EPA administrator in Atlanta wrote on Nov. 30 that the current version of the pump project is not subject to the agency’s 2008 veto.

It was approved by the corps in January. Wednesday’s decision was to revoke that permit.

Proponents of the project said the current proposal was significantly different from the one the EPA had previously rejected, as the pumps would be in a different location in miles (kilometers) from the originally planned location. The current proposal is for pumps near Deer Creek north of Vicksburg.

However, conservation groups said the project hasn’t changed significantly from what was proposed in 2008. They say it still involves the same 14,000 cubic feet per second pumping rig that affects the same wetlands as the originally proposed project.

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Leah Willingham is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national utility that places journalists on local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.


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