JACKSON, Miss (AP) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday that it had revoked approval for a massive flood control project in the South Mississippi Delta, which officials said the Trump administration had mistakenly set on fire in the last days.
In a letter to the Construction Army, EPA officials said the previous administration’s decision in November 2020 to approve the Yazoo Pumps project was against the Clean Water Act and “did not meet the recommendations of career researchers and technical staff.”
Radhika Fox, deputy head of the EPA’s water agency, said the federal government is concerned about the serious impact of the floods on people and the economy of the lower Mississippi estuary. However, he said he wanted to work with troops and others to find “a way forward that addresses flood concerns in an environmentally sound manner.”
The decision was welcomed by conservation groups – American Rivers, the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf – who had sued 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, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm representing conservation groups, said the decision is “a strong affirmation that science and law, not politics, will ultimately win.”
“EPA’s decision to strengthen bedrock environmental legislation and restore important conservation measures to some of the country’s richest wetlands,” Gillespie said Wednesday.
The Mississippi Republican leadership condemned the decision.
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said in a statement that it was “an absolutely terrible day for people living in the Mississippi Delta and an even sadder day for the country when an agency like the EPA refuses to do the right things for the people.”
“This EPA action is an abuse of discretion and could not be more arbitrary or right,” he said. “It also opens the door to a number of legal issues that should and are likely to be challenged.”
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker said he was “deeply frustrated” with the decision and said it would “leave the people of the South Mississippi Delta to their detriment.”
“Today’s operations mean the roads are still impassable, deer and other wildlife and plants are dying, hypoxia is killing fish, small businesses are closing down and residents are still forced to leave their houses,” Wicker said.
He said most of the people affected by the project are black and added that “it means environmental injustice”.
Farmers and environmentalists have been arguing for decades about proposals for flood control projects in the South Suisto.
Agriculture dominates the plains between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers and is full of small communities. The area has been flooded for the last nine to 10 years. One of these floods was the 2019 flood that lasted for several months.
The Yazoo Pumps project would have involved the construction of a pumping plant at 14,000 cubic feet per second in the Yazoo Backwater Area to drain water, mainly from shallow farmland, during floods.
The EPA banned a version of the proposed pump project in 2008. But Andrew Wheeler, an EPA administrator appointed by former President Donald Trump, said in April that the EPA would reconsider the decision. On November 30, the EPA’s regional director in Atlanta wrote that the current version of the pump project is not subject to the agency’s 2008 veto.
It was approved by the crowd in January. Wednesday’s decision revoked approval.
Proponents of the project said the current proposal differed significantly from the EPA’s previously vetoed proposal because the pumps would be at a different location miles (kilometers) from the location originally planned. The current proposal requires pumps near Deer Creek north of Vicksburg.
However, conservation groups said the project has not changed significantly from what was proposed in 2008. They say it still contains the same 14,000 cubic feet per second pumping station that will affect the same wetlands as the project originally proposed.
Leah Willingham is a member of the Associated Press / Report for the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.