WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight, convened a hearing today to examine the current issues adversely affecting environmental justice. He invited Tracy Harden, owner of Chuck’s Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, to testify on the need to control devastating flooding in Mississippi’s South Delta.
“To begin with, I think we should define what we mean by ‘environmental justice’ and I think really a better topic … is ‘environmental injustice,’” Wicker said in his opening statement.
Wicker then pointed out the flooding in the South Delta region of Mississippi is a serious but often overlooked case of environmental injustice. The federal government approved a plan to relieve flooding in the Delta in 1941, but 80 years of bureaucratic delay has kept the project known as the Yazoo Backwater Pumps from moving forward.
“Regular flooding reinforces this cycle of poverty because residents lack the certainty they need to build homes and establish new businesses,” Wicker said.
During his line of questioning, Wicker explained that the Yazoo Backwater Pumps have not been completed despite the support and approval of local stakeholders, the Army Corps of Engineers, and environmental groups. The impact of the delay has been devastating for the region.
“The entire population of Sharkey County – it's gone from 15,000 plus to 4,400 plus since 1940,” Wicker said. “At the very time when the residents of the South Delta have been crying out to complete this.”
When Wicker asked Harden about the impact the pumps project could have on her community, she replied, “We do know if those pumps are in, the floods would not be as high. Our farmers would be able to be in the fields working, which means they're able to employ some of the lower-income people. If the farmers can't plant, then they can't hire.”
Harden also responded to one potential argument by saying, “We have dealt with this all these years and people say, well, move. This is our home. It's been our home for many years. We can't just up and move.”
In his final question, Wicker asked Harden if the pumps project would benefit or harm wildlife.
“People say that this will harm wildlife. Well, all they had to do was come to Rolling Fork, come to the Delta and look and see how this flooding harmed our wildlife,” Harden said.