Federal lawsuit filed to uphold EPA’s Yazoo Pumps veto
Today, a coalition of conservation organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s last-minute revocation of a Clean Water Act veto that has protected some the richest wetland and aquatic resources in the Nation since 2008. This revocation opens the door for construction and operation of the same project prohibited by the 2008 veto—a massive pumping plant known as the Yazoo Pumps that would drain tens of thousands of acres of hemispherically significant wetlands in an ecologically rich and sparsely populated area of Mississippi known as the Yazoo Backwater Area.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) buried its veto revocation in a cover letter transmitting scathing comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Yazoo Pumps’ Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. EPA’s revocation ignores the facts on the ground, the explicit terms of the 2008 veto, and the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
EPA has used its Clean Water Act veto authority very sparingly, issuing just 13 vetoes since the law was enacted in 1972, out of nearly 2 million projects approved during that timeframe. EPA has never before revoked a veto.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in federal court today on behalf of American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and Healthy Gulf.
Joint Statement by American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Healthy Gulf, and Earthjustice:
“Today’s lawsuit delivers a clear, resounding message that EPA’s assault on the law, science, and the public’s voice will not be tolerated. The case challenges EPA’s last-minute decision to exempt the Yazoo Pumps from a conclusive Clean Water Act veto that was issued in 2008 to protect some of our country’s most valuable natural resources. EPA’s stunning reversal defies the explicit terms of the agency’s own veto, violates the Clean Water Act, and disregards core principles of administrative law that include ensuring due public process.
EPA has blinded itself to the facts on the ground, its own scientific and legal analyses, and the extensive record supporting the 2008 veto. The current proposal is based on the same flawed methodologies that EPA decisively rejected in 2008, and would not deliver flood relief to communities by leaving 82% to 89% of flooded lands underwater.3 The project will have devastating impacts to globally important wetlands, waters, and wildlife.
During the public comment period on the Corps’ 2020 proposal that concluded in November, more than 50,500 citizens, scientists, and public interest groups urged the Corps to abandon this ineffective, destructive project, and instead prioritize immediate, sustainable flood solutions to benefit local communities. Ninety-four percent of the comments received by the Corps were against the Pumps and called for commonsense natural infrastructure and non-structural approaches available now to help protect people’s lives, property and livelihoods, such as elevating homes and roads, and paying farmers to restore cropland back to wetlands.4
EPA’s decision has no basis in fact or reality, and signals that political motivations have trumped the agency’s sworn duties. We look forward to holding EPA fully accountable for its unlawful actions, to ensure the public’s voice is heard, and to safeguard the environmental protections bestowed on this globally significant area.”
1) EPA letter to Corps, 11/30/2020
2) 2008 Clean Water Act 404(c) Final Determination at iii, 73.
3) Corps’ October 16, 2020, Draft SEIS, Appendix C (Tables), Table 5.3
4) Conservation Organizations’ Alternative Flood Relief Solutions to the Yazoo Pumps