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Levee Board suing EPA over Yazoo Pump

MISSISSIPPI DELTA — Officials charged with protecting the lower Mississippi Delta from devastating floods have filed a court appeal in support of completion of the Yazoo Backwater Project, a flood-control project that has been derailed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The appeal was filed with the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners. The board is represented, free of charge, by attorneys with donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation, a legal watchdog organization.

The appeal follows a March 31, 2001, ruling by a federal district court that upheld EPA’s “veto” of construction of the key element of the project – a pumping station to reduce the effects of catastrophic flooding in the lower Mississippi Delta. The board had argued that EPA had no authority to intervene in the matter because the project had obtained a special congressional exemption from EPA veto in the early 1980s. The district court, however, held that the evidence was insufficient to show that such an exemption had been intended by Congress.

In the ruling’s wake, Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board, said, “This disappointing ruling is not going to stop the board from continuing to devote its full energies to securing adequate flood protection for the people of the South Delta region, as Congress mandated seventy years ago. That mandate remains in effect – and so does our commitment to making sure it’s fulfilled.”

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 Dec. 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, this lawsuit contends.

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 two years ago. The board notified the EPA of its discovery, but the EPA nevertheless went forward with issuing its veto of the pump station.

Source: Pacific Legal Foundation


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