EPA cancels approval of Mississippi Yazoo Pumps project

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it had canceled approval of a massive flood control project in the southern Mississippi Delta which officials said , had been wrongly lit green in the last days of the Trump administration.

In a letter to the military for civilian works, EPA officials said the previous administration’s November 2020 decision to approve the Yazoo pump project was in violation of the Clean Water Act and “does not did not reflect the recommendations of career scientists and technical personnel “.

Radhika Fox, deputy administrator of the EPA’s water office, said the federal government is concerned about the severe impacts of the flooding on the people and economy of the Lower Mississippi Delta. But she said she wanted to work with the Corps and others to find “a way forward that solves flooding issues in an environmentally friendly way.”

The move was applauded by conservation groups – American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf – who sued the EPA, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year for the construction of pumps in the Yazoo Backwater north of Vicksburg.

Stu Gillespie, lawyer for Earthjustice, the environmental law firm representing conservation groups, said the ruling is “a powerful assertion that science and law, not politics, ultimately prevail.”

“The EPA’s ruling upholds basic environmental laws and restores crucial safeguards for some of the nation’s richest wetlands,” Gillespie said Wednesday.

The Mississippi Republican leadership denounced the decision.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith said in a statement it was an “absolutely terrible day for people who live in the Mississippi Delta and an even sadder day for the country when an agency like the ‘EPA refuses to do the right thing for the people. “

“This action by the EPA is an abuse of discretion and could not be more arbitrary or capricious,” she said. “It also opens the door to a host of legal questions that should and likely will be challenged.”

US Senator Roger Wicker said he was “deeply frustrated” with the decision and said it “would leave the people of the southern Mississippi Delta in danger.”

“Today’s action means roads will continue to be impassable, deer and other wildlife and plants will die, hypoxia will kill fish, small businesses will close and residents will continue to be forced out. their homes, ”Wicker said.

He said the vast majority of people who would be affected by the project are black, adding that “this amounts to environmental injustice.”

Farmers and environmentalists have been arguing for decades over proposed flood control projects in the southern delta.

The plains between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers are dominated by agriculture and dotted with small communities. The region has been inundated nine of the last ten years. Among these floods, a deluge in 2019 lasted several months.

The Yazoo Pumps project reportedly involved the construction of a 14,000 cubic feet per second pumping plant in the Yazoo backwater area to drain water, mostly from low-lying agricultural land, during the floods.

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

It was approved by the Corps in January. Wednesday’s decision was a reversal of that approval.

Supporters of the project said the current proposal was very different from what the EPA had vetoed, as the pumps would be located in a different location miles from the originally planned site. The current proposal calls for pumps near Deer Creek, north of Vicksburg.

However, conservation groups have said the project has not changed significantly from what was proposed in 2008. They say it still includes the same 14,000 cubic feet per second pumping plant, affecting the same wetlands as the initially proposed project.


Leah Willingham is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.

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