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Senate Appropriations Rider Revives Water Project Vetoed by Bush’s EPA

The Yazoo Pumps would damage an area of wetlands larger than all five boroughs of New York City.

JACKSON, Miss. – A draft Senate appropriations bill includes a rider that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “immediately” begin construction of a previously-canceled project on the Yazoo River in Mississippi. The project would damage or destroy as many as 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Mississippi Delta.

“It is hard to overstate what a waste of money the Yazoo Pumps project is, how few people would benefit and how much damage it would to do wildlife and waterfowl habitat,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The Bush administration was wise to put a stake through the project’s heart a decade ago. Congress should not try to resurrect it now.”

The Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the project in 2008, citing the “unacceptable damage” the project would cause to “some of the richest wetland and aquatic resources in the nation.” It was only the 12th time the agency exercised its veto authority under the Clean Water Act. Wetlands in the Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, the Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge, and the Delta National Forest would be harmed by the project.

“This wasteful project is bad for ducks and duck hunting in Mississippi,” said Johnny Marquez, program director at the Mississippi Wildlife Federation. “This is some of the richest stopover habitat in the country for waterfowl and it makes no sense to spend taxpayer dollars to destroy it.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and an independent hydrologic review found that the project would drain and damage up to 200,000 acres of ecologically significant wetlands—an area larger than all five boroughs of New York City. The Army Corps acknowledged that 67,000 acres of wetlands would be harmed, but the agency admitted that it did not evaluate the full range of wetland impacts. The George W. Bush Administration vetoed the project based on the 67,000 acres of wetland impacts acknowledged by the Corps.

"The project costs would exceed a quarter of a billion dollars and would benefit a handful of landowners. It’s effectively a multi-million dollar handout to each individual landowner, on top of the farm subsidies they already get,” said Louie Miller, director of Mississippi Sierra Club. “This pork-barrel project didn't pass the smell test then and it doesn't now. This project is the poster child for wasting taxpayer money."

Originally authorized by Congress in 1941, the plan would build one of the world's largest hydraulic pumping plants to reduce flooding on marginal farmlands, many of which flood every other year on average. Landowners in the area already receive significant federal subsidies—fifty-one landowners in the two-year floodplain of the project area received a total of $15.3 million in farm subsidies between 1996 and 2001.

“The Yazoo Pumps project would be a catastrophe for the environment and taxpayers,” said Bob Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers. “This rider would toss out our nation’s legal processes and principles to ensure this particular project is never assessed by scientists, commented on by the public or reviewed by a judge. But these laws exist precisely so taxpayers don’t get stuck footing the bill for disastrous schemes like this one.”

The rider would exempt the project from any kind of cost-benefit analysis or environmental assessment and it would eliminate any administrative or judicial review of the project. The rider also commits the federal government to paying for the entire project—regardless of funding limitations or competing priorities—by requiring use of a continuing contract for the project. Federal taxpayers will cover the full cost of the project’s construction and operations.

“The Yazoo Pumps would destroy and damage nationally significant wetland habitats to benefit a handful of large landowners,” said Melissa Samet, Senior Water Resources Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. “Common sense has defeated this project in the past and we are hopeful reason will prevail again.”

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