Hyde-Smith, Wicker Introduce Bill to Rein in Clean Water Act Veto Authority

Bill Would Immediately Nullify Yazoo Backwater Veto

July 31, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today introduced legislation that would overturn a 2008 decision that halted the final aspects of a long-awaited flood control project for the South Mississippi Delta, a region hit by disastrous flooding for most of this year.

The Mississippi Senators addressed the flooding disaster in the Yazoo Backwater Region in speeches to the Senate Wednesday and introduced the Flood Reduction, Wildlife Habitat, and Water Quality Improvement Act of 2019 as they continue to press the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete congressionally-authorized work on a critical pump project for the region.

“The people of Mississippi are beyond ready to see this crisis resolved.  They are, frankly, extremely frustrated with the federal government.  More than 17,000 people have signed a petition to remove an EPA 2008 regulatory veto preventing construction of the pumps,” Hyde-Smith said.  “It is time for the federal government to make good on its promises.  It is time to construct the pumps.  While we work toward that goal, this legislation proposes commonsense reforms to the laws governing the regulation of our nation’s waters and permitting process.”

“The recent flooding in the Yazoo Backwater area has been devastating for Mississippians who have seen their property destroyed and livelihoods disrupted,” Wicker said.  “This tragedy could have been avoided had the Environmental Protection Agency not vetoed the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps Project over a decade ago. This legislation would help to right these wrongs by ensuring that important flood control projects – especially those approved by Congress – cannot be delayed indefinitely by government bureaucracy.”

The Flood Reduction, Wildlife Habitat, and Water Quality Improvement Act would reform section 404 of the Clean Water Act to prohibit EPA from vetoing a Corps of Engineers flood control project specifically authorized by Congress.  If enacted, the legislation would also immediately nullify any prior veto determinations made by EPA that resulted in severe flooding and damage to life and property.

The legislation conforms with the directives outlined in Executive Order 13807 issued by President Trump on August 24, 2017, and would establish greater discipline and accountability in the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects.

A 2008 EPA veto halted work by the Corp of Engineers to construct the Yazoo Backwater Pump Project, which Congress authorized in 1941.  The project is the last remaining unconstructed feature of a 77-year flood control effort in the Lower Mississippi Valley.

Hyde-Smith and Wicker will continue to work with the Trump Administration, EPA and the Corps of Engineers to overturn or amend the 2008 veto and allow work to proceed on the pump project.

While formal damage assessments are pending, the 2019 flood in the South Delta has caused severe damage to more than 600 households, displaced nearly 400 families, and caused agricultural losses expected to exceed $800 million.  Infrastructure damage in the region is also extensive. 

The text of Hyde-Smith’s prepared remarks is available here.