News

Conservation Groups Respond to EPA’s decision to overturn Clean Water Act veto

Audubon Mississippi, American Rivers, Healthy Gulf and Mississippi Sierra Club say Yazoo pumps project defies the science, sidesteps the law, and undermines critical protections Americans hold dear for all of our nation’s natural resources.

JACKSON, Miss. – On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Administrator Mary Walker sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in response to the Corps’ October 16, 2020, release of a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for a massive drainage project in Mississippi’s South Delta commonly known as the Yazoo Pumps.

In the letter, EPA asserts the agency has determined that the current project proposal is not subject to the Clean Water Act veto that the agency issued in 2008.  Under the George W. Bush Administration, EPA used its Clean Water Act 404(c) authority to veto the Yazoo Pumps citing the project would cause “unacceptable damage” to “some of the richest wetland and aquatic resources in the nation.”  As only one of 13 vetoes ever issued, EPA’s decision was upheld by a federal District Court in Mississippi and affirmed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Statement by Aforementioned Conservation Groups:

“EPA’s last-ditch effort to modify the veto and greenlight the Yazoo Pumps project defies the science, sidesteps the law, and undermines critical protections Americans hold dear for all of our nation’s natural resources.  If allowed to stand, this erroneous decision would drive an enormous loophole into the Clean Water Act that would encourage the Corps and permit applicants to circumvent the law with minor, superficial changes that do not alter the unacceptable adverse impacts of a project.  It is also an obvious attempt to ignore the public’s voice by bypassing the rule of law that requires a full, transparent process with public review and comment through the Clean Water Act. 

EPA’s veto squarely applies to the proposed plan, which recommends the same 14,000 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) pumping station whose purpose, structure, and operation would cause unacceptable adverse impacts in violation of the Clean Water Act.  Furthermore, the proposal is based on the same flawed methodologies that EPA decisively rejected in 2008, which gravely understate the project’s impacts to globally important wetlands, waters, and wildlife. 

The latest proposal is proof positive that the Pumps are not designed to protect communities from flooding and reinforces the Corps’ stunning conclusion from 2007 that 80 percent of the project benefits will be for agriculture.  At full operation the Pumps would leave, at best, 65 percent of flooded lands underwater and it would take weeks to months to drawdown floodwaters on the remaining backwater lands.

During the public comment period that concluded on Monday, more than 55,000 citizens, scientists, and public interest groups urged the Corps to abandon this ineffective, destructive project, and instead prioritize immediate, sustainable flood solutions to benefit local communities.  The broad chorus called for commonsense natural infrastructure and non-structural approaches available now to help protect people’s lives, property and livelihoods, such as elevating homes and roads, and paying farmers to restore cropland back to wetlands.  Over 70 percent of the public comments that were submitted during the June 2020 scoping period urged similar actions.

This reflects what EPA acknowledged in its 2008 veto that less damaging, more affordable alternatives to floodplain management had not been adequately considered. 

EPA’s reversal has no basis in fact or reality, and signals that political motivations have trumped agency mission.  Our groups will continue working to ensure science and the protections bestowed upon our nation’s treasured natural resources and public health are upheld to the fullest extent of the law.”

CONTACT:

Audubon Mississippi - Jill Mastrototaro, (504) 481-3659, jill.mastrototaro@audubon.org

American Rivers - Olivia Dorothy, (217) 390-3658, odorothy@americanrivers.org

Healthy Gulf - Andrew Whitehurst, (601) 954-7236, andrew@healthygulf.org

Mississippi Sierra Club - Louie Miller, (601) 624-3503, louie.miller@sierraclub.org

How you can help, right now

Audubon Arkansas, Audubon Louisiana, and Audubon Mississippi have joined forces to become Audubon Delta.