State, EPA still wrangling over Yazoo flood pumps

Published 3:47 pm Thursday, August 21, 2008

The chief engineer for the Mississippi Levee Board says he’ll keep pushing for a massive pump project aimed at reducing flooding in the south Delta despite opposition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Peter Nimrod says the EPA has failed to consider the adverse impacts of flooding that would be minimized by the proposed Yazoo Backwater Project.

EPA Assistant Administrator Benjamin Grumbles sent a letter to Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran earlier this month, saying the agency has the right to veto the $220 million project under the Clean Water Act.

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“We believe that the project remains subject to regulation,” Grumbles wrote Aug. 6.

Grumbles was responding to a July letter from Cochran and Mississippi’s other Republican U.S. senator, Roger Wicker. The senators had said the pending EPA veto “raises serious legal and policy issues.”

The southeast division of EPA recommended in June to “prohibit, restrict, or deny” the pumps project, which would remove rainwater from south Delta counties during flooding.

The division said the pumps would destroy wetlands and endanger wildlife, ranging from fish to migratory birds to Louisiana black bears. Officials at EPA’s Washington headquarters will review the recommendation and release a final decision on the project later this year.

Cochran and Wicker said the EPA does not have veto power. They cited a report from the Congressional Research Service that says EPA may not prohibit “a Federal project specifically authorized by Congress.”

Grumbles said the Army Corps of Engineers had not submitted the proper paperwork to Congress, so the pumps project never received the necessary congressional approval to exempt it from an EPA veto.

Nimrod said Grumbles’ response was “more of the same” from the EPA.

“They’re looking for any excuse to veto,” Nimrod said this week. “It’s a bunch of baloney.”

Nimrod denied Grumbles’ claim that the Corps failed to produce the proper documents. In a letter back to Grumbles, Nimrod said the Corps submitted the required statement in 1982.

Nimrod said neither the Army nor EPA had responded adequately to requests to provide the documents that would prove the “track record.” He said the board has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to retrieve these documents.