Hyde-Smith introduces legislation that could overturn EPA veto

Published 6:21 pm Wednesday, July 31, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker introduced Wednesday legislation that would overturn a 2008 decision that halted the final aspects of a long-awaited flood control project for the South Mississippi Delta, a region hit by disastrous flooding for most of this year.

Both Hyde-Smith and Wicker addressed the flooding disaster in the Yazoo Backwater Region in speeches from the Senate floor Wednesday and introduced the Flood Reduction, Wildlife Habitat, and Water Quality Improvement Act of 2019 as they continue to press the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete congressionally-authorized work on a critical pump project for the region.

“The people of Mississippi are beyond ready to see this crisis resolved. They are, frankly, extremely frustrated with the federal government. More than 17,000 people have signed a petition to remove an EPA 2008 regulatory veto preventing construction of the pumps,” Hyde-Smith said. “It is time for the federal government to make good on its promises. It is time to construct the pumps. While we work toward that goal, this legislation proposes commonsense reforms to the laws governing the regulation of our nation’s waters and permitting process.”

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Wicker, who praised Hyde-Smith for her efforts on crafting the legislation and pushing for changes to the veto process, said the completion of the project “cannot be delayed.”

“The recent flooding in the Yazoo Backwater area has been devastating for Mississippians who have seen their property destroyed and livelihoods disrupted,” Wicker said. “This tragedy could have been avoided had the Environmental Protection Agency not vetoed the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps Project over a decade ago. This legislation would help to right these wrongs by ensuring that important flood control projects — especially those approved by Congress — cannot be delayed indefinitely by government bureaucracy.”

The Flood Reduction, Wildlife Habitat, and Water Quality Improvement Act would reform section 404 of the Clean Water Act to prohibit EPA from vetoing a Corps of Engineers flood control project specifically authorized by Congress.

If enacted, the legislation would also immediately nullify any prior veto determinations made by the EPA that resulted in severe flooding and damage to life and property.

A 2008 EPA veto halted work by the Corp of Engineers to construct the Yazoo Backwater Pump Project, which Congress authorized in 1941. The project is the last remaining unconstructed feature of a 77-year flood control effort in the Lower Mississippi Valley.

While formal damage assessments are pending, the 2019 flood in the South Delta has caused severe damage to more than 600 households, displaced nearly 400 families, and caused agricultural losses expected to exceed $800 million. Infrastructure damage in the region is also extensive.