Lawsuit aims to stop EPA from sinking vital
Mississippi flood-control project
“People’s lives, homes, and jobs are at stake,” says PLF attorney. “Congress approved this project and EPA’s only duty is to butt out.”
GREENVILLE, MS; August 11, 2009: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had no authority to veto a vital pump project that will protect against devastating floods in the lower Mississippi Delta. Therefore, construction of the pump station – part of the Yazoo Backwater Project – must be allowed to go forward.
So argues a federal lawsuit filed today by the Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners, a nearly 150-year-old state authority whose mission is to protect the residents of the lower Mississippi Delta from flooding. The Board maintains some features of the Yazoo Backwater Project that are already in existence.
Damien M. Schiff
The Board is represented by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest legal organization, headquartered in Sacramento, that is the nation’s leading watchdog for balance and common sense in environmental regulations.
The EPA vetoed the pump project in August, 2008, claiming that the project would harm wetlands. However, the Clean Water Act (Section 404(r)) prohibits EPA from vetoing any project approved by Congress prior to December 27, 1977, when the environmental impacts of the project were made known to Congress before construction began. Such is the case with the proposed pumping station for the Yazoo Backwater Project, today’s lawsuit contends.
“Federal law is clear: EPA cannot pull the plug on this vitally important pumping station, because Congress OK’d it after a formal environmental briefing,” said PLF attorney Damien Schiff. “This project is necessary to the lives and homes of thousands of people, as well as businesses and farmland. Congress authorized the Yazoo Backwater Project as early as 1941 and Congress appropriated money for the pumping station in 1982 with the benefit of an environmental impact statement from the Army Corps of Engineers. Congress approved this project with all the required information before it. EPA has only one duty in this matter: To butt out.”
The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners found out about the transmittal to Congress of the 1982 environmental impact statement through a Freedom of Information Act request last year. The Board notified the EPA of its discovery, but the EPA nevertheless went forward with issuing its veto of the pump station.
“EPA is trying to impose its will even after being notified that Congress was fully apprised of the environmental issues when it approved funding for the pumps,” said Schiff. “EPA can’t say the 1982 environmental impact statement was deficient, because the statement followed standard Army Corps policies and procedures that were then in effect. Our lawsuit asks the court to remind the EPA that it is not above the law, and the law says EPA can’t overrule Congress to block the pumps.”
The pumping station: vital protection against devastating floods
The purpose of the proposed pumping station is to reduce the effects of catastrophic flooding in the lower Mississippi Delta. When the Mississippi River floods, the natural gravitational flow of other, smaller rivers in the area is impeded, causing them to overflow and inundate the Backwater Area. Earlier this year, devastating flooding overtook 400,000 acres including 152,000 acres of agricultural land, causing extensive economic damage.
The pumping station would lift waters out of the Backwater Area, back into the Mississippi River, to flow down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Peter Nimrod, Chief Engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board, stated, “The residents of the Mississippi South Delta just want what was promised to them 68 years ago. It is time to complete the last phase of flood protection for the Mississippi Delta.”
MS Levee Board
An environmentally sensitive project
“The EPA lacks authority to block the pumping project for clear legal reasons, based on the Clean Water Act,” PLF’s Schiff explained. “But even if that weren’t the case, the agency’s veto would still be unjustified because this is a carefully designed, environmentally sensitive project. For example, it includes a reforestation component that would result in the planting of new vegetation across more than 55,000 acres.”
Peter Nimrod stated: “The Yazoo Backwater Project is a model project that will not only provide flood protection with the pump, but will vastly increase benefits for every environmental resource including wetlands, terrestrial, aquatic and duck habitat, through the reforestation of the one-year floodplain.”
The suit is titled Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners v. United States Environmental Protection Agency.