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Posts Tagged ‘Sen. John McCain’

EPA admits it has no experts on Yazoo Pump Project

March 7th, 2012 Comments off

Just got off the phone with the EPA in Atlanta, and, according to a media representative, there is no one there who is an expert on the Yazoo Backwater Project.

Having said that, a federal appeals court panel sided yesterday with the Environmental Protection Agency over its 2008 veto of a $220 million flood control project near the Yazoo River in the south Mississippi Delta.

Does it make sense that there is no one in the entirety of the EPA who falls into the category of an “expert” who can answer questions about the project, yet it vetoed the project and has been willing to defend that decision in the courts?

I say more towers and fewer land lines

April 25th, 2011 Comments off

As an iPhone user, the news that AT&T is expanding and upgrading its wireless network in Mississippi is more than great, it is ….
Oh, sorry, I had a dropped call.
You get the point.
Even AT&T Mississippi CEO Mayo Flynt admitted to the Mississippi Business Journal a few months back that even he has a hard time with reception from time to time. He says his home is at the bottom of a hill, which leads to reception issues.
The company said in a statement last week that it plans to add 50 cell sites in the state in 2011. More than 100 existing cell sites will be upgraded and capacity will be enhanced at sites across the state.
In 2010, AT&T says it added 50 new cell sites in Mississippi and upgraded some 90 existing sites to mobile broadband.
AT&T says the improvements are part of a $19-billion companywide capital investment this year.

Who needs a home phone?
With the news that AT&T is adding towers, which would presumably lead to better reception across the state, why in the world would you want to have a home phone? Well, apparently that is a good question.
In a story from last week, it was reported that a  growing number of Americans are getting rid of their old land line telephones and using only cell phones, a trend led not by the high-tech elite but by people in poorer states trying to save money.
And guess who is leading the way?
You’ve got it.
Mississippi.
Government estimates show at least 30 percent of adults in 10 states rely entirely on cell phones, with the highest percentage in Arkansas and Mississippi, where many cannot afford to pay for two separate lines.
Wealthier households have been slower to use wireless technology as their sole means of making calls.
“The answer’s obvious: No one has money here,” John N. Daigle, a professor of electrical engineering at Ole Miss with broad experience in the telecommunications industry, told the Associated Press. “If they can do without a land line, they will do it to save money.”
Sure, I would do it to save money, too. In fact, we have had that conversation at our house. My wife and I both have cell phones. Everyone who needs to contact us, knows how to.
However, we keep our land line for security system and emergency needs, as well as the convenient daily telemarketer calls at just about the time we are putting a kids to bed.
Clay Chandler, here in our newsroom, recently thought about the same thing in his new home. We talked at length about it. Not because we are poverty stricken — although we do live on journalists salaries — but because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay for more phones that you really need.
According to the AP story about 35 percent of adults in Mississippi have only cell phones, according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New Jersey and Rhode Island, the states where the smallest proportion of people depend solely on wireless phones, that figure is only 13 percent.
Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation — 21.9 percent in 2009, according to the Census Bureau. The Arkansas figure was 18.8 percent. The nationwide rate is 14.3 percent.
In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau defined poverty as a single person making less than $11,000 a year or a family of four making less than $22,000 a year.
“I think people decide, ‘I can afford one but not the other,’” said Ellen Reddy, who works for a nonprofit community center that helps low-income residents in Holmes County. She said poor people in her area often have cell phones with a limited number of minutes.
Again, however, it comes down to a business decision. You don’t have to be poverty stricken to make a decision to have one phone instead of two.
Sounds like folks in Mississippi, poor or not, have made the right decision.
Now, if we can get those new AT&T towers up quickly, so my wife doesn’t think I have hung up on her while I am driving past Highland Village in Jackson.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

EPA, Sierra push tall tales about Yazoo pump project past courts

April 1st, 2011 Comments off

Several years ago, I was one of those who thought the Yazoo Backwater Project was another instance of government spending gone crazy for the benefit of a few rich folks, particularly Delta farmers.
And, if you listen to environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency as to why they oppose the Yazoo pump project, you’ll think they make a compelling argument.
But I was wrong.
And so were the EPA, the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, American Rivers, the National Wildlife Federation and every other group or organization that opposed the pumps, at least for the reasons they give.
The EPA vetoed the project in 2008, basing its decision on the Clean Water Act.
In August 2009, The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners sued filed a federal lawsuit challenging the EPA’s decision. The Commission wants to move forward with the $220 million flood-control project.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock dismissed the suit.
So the argument appears to be over.
But my conscience demands that I not allow the EPA’s preposterous reasoning to be the final word.

The EPA’s case
All along, the EPA has said the project would have caused “unacceptable damage to the valuable resources that are used for wildlife, economic and recreational purposes.”
In an interview with a representative of the EPA in January, I asked him what environmental template was used to come up with the assertion of “unacceptable damage.”
The EPA, he said, wants the area of the South Delta to be pristine, the way it was before man began interfering with the wetlands for flood control.

The back story
The Yazoo Backwater Project is a decades-old proposal to build a 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 come up with enough money for it.
The proposed pump would lower a 100-year flood by four 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 lawsuit claimed the EPA’s veto was illegal because the project was approved by Congress before 1977, when the agency was given veto power under the Clean Water Act.
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 environmentalists
Louie Miller, state director for the Sierra Club, applauded the dismissal of the lawsuit.
“Today marks the final nail in the coffin of one of the most costly and environmentally destructive projects ever contrived,” Miller said. “This truly marks the end of an era in Mississippi politics.”
“The Pumps boondoggle rose to the level of being one of only 11 projects ever vetoed in the 40 year history of the Clean Water Act,” stated Cynthia Sarthou of Gulf Restoration Network.
However, the levee board’s chief engineer, Peter Nimrod, said last week no one is looking at the real issue, and he insisted politics are being put ahead of what is best for everyone.
Of the EPA, Nimrod said: “They hurt the environment by not allowing us to build it.”

The real issue
Mississippi Republican Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker advised the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations that the Yazoo Backwater Project should be exempt from the EPA veto.
The senators say the project should be exempt from the veto and in a written statement asked “for a full explanation of why that information was ignored” by the EPA.
Even with all the legal wrangling in Washington, it should be understood, the EPA really doesn’t have a clue about the Yazoo Backwater Project. All of the statistics and fancy words being used are smoke and mirrors. When the EPA says it wants the area to be pristine, it proves the argument has nothing to do with the environment.

It’s a lot of money
For sure, the Yazoo Backwater Project is controversial.
Certainly, the high price of the project compared with the number of people it will help in the short or long term is disturbing. And it is true that much of what has been done over the years in the name of flood control across the Delta and North Mississippi has contributed to the continued flooding of the South Delta.
But no reasonable person can be in favor of what the EPA has done in the name of environmental protection.
Other than the price tag, there is no reason to stop the pump project.
It is important to point out that the Yazoo Backwater Project would have many advantages, including a 19 percent increase in naturally occuring wetlands that include the precense of plants such as cattails that are adapted to wet areas. There would also be a 34 percent increase in aquatic resources, which encompasses all the possible roles for water, including human survival needs, supporting aquatic ecosystems and an essential component of economic development.
In addition, the reforestation would improve water quality in the region.
But at what cost?
$220 million.
That’s a lot, for sure.
If at any time there were a guarantee the $220 million from Uncle Sam was a blank check to be used in the best interest of the Mississippi Delta, surely the pumps would be down the list.
However, that is not the reality.
The money is, or would be, specifically for the Yazoo Backwater Project. Maybe the EPA is working on a hush-hush, backdoor plan that would change the way the $220 million is used. Maybe the feds want to buy the land from the owners. Maybe. Probably not.
No one is talking about any other option.
But here’s what everybody should be talking about:
The EPA’s view that rejecting the pumps will leave the Delta in a natural state is warped.
The Delta hasn’t been in a natural state for more than 200 years, since we started farming it and particularly since we started to control flooding.
What we have now is a result of the flood control system put in place 100 years ago, a system that, by all accounts, is a mess.
Because of that, the water from the annual spring floods is, at this very moment, rising against the levees in a giant man-made bathtub. Soon, that water will be destroying wetlands.
No environmental do-gooders are going to change that by stopping the Yazoo Backwater Project.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

McCain takes aim square at Mississippi catfish farmers

March 11th, 2011 Comments off

Bennie Thompson ain’t talking about catfish, but Sen. John McCain is.
We have asked Congressman Thompson to comment on the new catfish inspection program that critics say threatens to derail U.S. trade relations with Vietnam. He has never returned a phone call or an e-mail.
However, last week, we ran a story on our website about the catfish industry’s reaction to a proposal by McCain to repeal that very same law, and the McCain camp was on the phone.
They wanted to know where the story came from, and why we were running it and why we didn’t have a response from Sen. McCain.
That’s what I am looking for, I said.
This whole thing has boggled my mind from the beginning and I wanted someone to explain why there would be any consideration for choosing Vietnamese fish in a trade debate ahead of U.S. catfish.
What the McCain camp sent was a canned, rambling floor statement, which read, in part, “Mr. President, Section 11016 is nothing more than the latest effort by members of Congress serving the special interests of the catfish industry in their home states. A similar protectionist tactic was tried in the 2002 Farm Bill when many of these same members slipped in language that made it illegal to label Vietnamese catfish (‘pangasius’) as catfish in U.S. retail markets.”
Mississippi’s Thad Cochran also responded to interview requests, saying, “My initial reaction to legislation to repeal the USDA catfish inspection authority is that it is uncalled for.
“I will oppose it,” Cochran continued. “The Department of Agriculture should be given a chance to finally carry out the inspection authority Congress gave it in 2008. This inspection process would help ensure that imported catfish are as safe and nutritious as the catfish produced in Mississippi and elsewhere. We do not have that assurance today The current federal inspection regime involves testing a very small percentage – only 2 percent — of the catfish imported into this country. While I regret the long, drawn-out process to implement this USDA mandate, I believe it remains important.”
Unfortunately, neither Cochran nor McCain’s positions do a lot to help the Mississippi catfish farmers, mostly conservative and mostly Republican, who are going broke.
As someone without a dog in the fight, other than being from a state that produces farm-raised catfish, it would appear Sen. McCain is more concerned about trade with Vietnam than the economy in the South, specifically.
Mississippi catfish growers have taken a huge financial hit from the import of catfish products, according to statistics from U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In recent weeks, we reported that Itta Bena-based Heartland Catfish is making cutbacks. Many other independent farmers are turning over their ponds to go back to row crops, and this has been going on for years now.
It won’t be too long before there isn’t a debate to have as all of the catfish ponds around the South will have dried up.
We won’t take it for granted, like we do now, of the all-you-can-eat buffets across Mississippi and the rest of the Southeast.
It will become something we eat when we go and catch the big one; you know, the one that has grown up in the Mississippi River where it has survived on a constant diet of sludge and pollutants.
You know, kind of like the fish the Vietnamese importing to us now.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Update: McCain versus Mississippi catfish

March 9th, 2011 Comments off

The catfish industry isn’t receiving any favors lately …

I will have my column about the subject this week, which you can read on my blog Friday …

Below is reaction from the catfish industry, followed by a statement from Sen. Jon McCain.

Catfish Industry

A proposal by Sen. John McCain to repeal a law making all catfish safer for American consumers ignores numerous findings of banned substances in imported catfish products and favors inadequate food safety requirements.

“It is stunning that Sen. McCain has chosen to protect importers and Vietnamese farmers over the health and safety of American citizens,” said Butch Wilson, newly elected president of the Catfish Farmers of America.

The U.S. Congress, concerned about food safety, voted to move catfish inspections and regulation from the FDA to USDA as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

A bill proposed by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) would repeal the 2008 regulation.

The USDA has greater authority to conduct on-site safety inspections of production facilities, guarantee accurate labeling and enforce requirements that imported meat, poultry and catfish meet the same health and safety standards as American products. The USDA’s inspection requirements and regulations are well-known to U.S. trading partners.

In a statement announcing the bill, McCain alleged the “Food and Drug Administration hasn’t reported any safety or health problems with the Vietnamese imports.”

That is wrong. The FDA has found in imported catfish from Vietnam and other nations potentially dangerous chemicals or drugs that are banned by the United States in farm-raised catfish, according to the FDA. Details at this FDA link:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/Seafood/SeafoodRegulatoryProgram/ucm150954.htm

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last month a major criminal case of mislabeling and hazardous contaminants found in Vietnamese frozen catfish fillets imported by a seafood import company in McCain’s home state of Arizona. NOAA’s criminal investigation discovered that the Arizona company “bought Vietnamese catfish illegally imported into the U.S. labeled as sole” which was then sold to approximately 65 different wholesale customers, including supermarkets and restaurants.

“Some of the fish tested positive for malachite green and Enrofloxin, both of which are considered health hazards and banned from U.S. food products,” NOAA said in a statement on this link:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110204_seafoodmislabeling.html

In addition, the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries issued a halt on the sale of imported Asian catfish and related fish in November 2009 after the fish tested positive for antibiotic Fluoroquinolones banned for use in fish or other seafood products sold in the United States because of the health and safety danger to consumers.

“There could be no better advertising for catfish than to have the USDA seal of approval stamped on the package,” said Wilson, adding that the law would apply to all U.S. Farm Raised Catfish as well as imported catfish. “We welcome the USDA oversight on our U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish. Whether a food safety incident results from domestic or foreign fish, the impact is the same: Consumer confidence in all catfish will evaporate.”

Sen. John McCain statement

“Mr. President, I’m pleased to be joined by my colleague, Senator Coburn, in introducing legislation to repeal duplicative federal regulations relating to the inspection and grading of catfish. Specifically, our bill would rescind a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill, Section 11016 of P.L. 110-246, which aims to inhibit Vietnamese catfish imports as well as catfish imports of other potential trade partners.

“Mr. President, Section 11016 is nothing more than the latest effort by Members of Congress serving the special interests of the catfish industry in their home states. A similar protectionist tactic was tried in the 2002 Farm Bill when many of these same members slipped in language that made it illegal to label Vietnamese catfish (‘pangasius’) as catfish in U.S. retail markets. The intent there was to discourage American consumers from buying Vietnamese catfish products even though they are virtually indistinguishable from U.S. grown catfish. It didn’t work. Vietnamese catfish remain popular with American consumers because it’s more affordable and cheaper to produce than domestic catfish grown in aquaculture ponds. Now these special interests are relying on this latest Farm Bill rider to over regulate Vietnamese catfish by, ironically, deeming pangasius a catfish again. Under the guise of food safety, the 2008 Farm Bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to inspect catfish like it does meat products or eggs, except that no other fish is under the regulatory thumb of the FSIS. Catfish is already regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which hasn’t reported any safety or health problems with the Vietnamese imports. Domestic producers are simply trying to create barriers for Vietnamese catfish farmers by forcing them to comply with a second inspection regime administered by an entirely different arm of the federal bureaucracy.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently engaged in the proposed rulemaking process for implementing this new inspection authority. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report flagged this FSIS program as ‘duplicative’ and ‘high risk’ for ‘fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.’ GAO estimates that the USDA would spend about $30 million in taxpayer dollars to implement the agency’s new catfish inspection program and that we’d be further fragmenting our federal food safety system by having catfish regulated twice by both USDA and FDA.

“Mr. President, the provision that I’m seeking to repeal is nothing more than a protectionist tactic funded at taxpayers’ expense. If implemented, the proposed USDA regulations will lead to a duplicative, costly and complex overseas inspection program that serves no real purpose but to protect American catfish growers from competition while forcing American consumers to pay more for fish. Not only is the catfish provision in Section 11016 offensive to our principles of free trade, it flagrantly disregards our Bilateral Trade Agreement and relationship with Vietnam. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”