Controversial Yazoo Pumps back in the courtroom

MISSISSIPPI DELTA — A federal appeals court has scheduled arguments for Feb. 9 in New Orleans on efforts by a Mississippi levee board to revive a long-debated federal pump project.

The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners appealed a Mississippi federal judge’s dismissal of its lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments Feb. 9.

The levee board wants to move forward with the Yazoo Backwater Project, a proposed pump station to drain wetlands, farmland and forests north of Vicksburg when the Mississippi River is high.

Congress authorized the project in 1941 but didn’t fully fund it.

The EPA vetoed the Yazoo pump aspect of the project in 2008, saying it would destroy wetlands, water quality and habitat for threatened species.

The levee board sued in 2009 in U.S. District Court in Greenville, challenging the EPA’s veto authority.

U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen dismissed the suit March 28, 2011.

The levee board contends the proposed pump would lower a 100-year flood by 4 feet, and the project would remove about 60,000 acres from agricultural production so hardwood trees could be planted to increase wetlands.

The levee board has said the environmental community has circulated a lot if misinformation about the project.

The lawsuit claimed EPA’s veto of the Yazoo pump project was illegal because the project was approved by Congress before the agency was given veto power under the Clean Water Act in 1977.

EPA officials have said the pump project doesn’t meet all the requirements to proceed under the Clean Water Act, regardless of the timing.

The EPA first expressed reservations about the environmental damage associated with the proposed pump project more than 25 years ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been against it for more than 50 years.

In her dismissal of the lawsuit, Aycock concluded that “the EPA was not barred from utilizing its … veto authority” for the project.

Louie Miller, state director for the Sierra Club, said the dismissal of the lawsuit was “the final nail in the coffin of one of the most costly and environmentally destructive projects ever contrived.”

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund joined in the lawsuit, siding with the EPA.

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