Advocates for the Yazoo Backwater Pumps project are in a painfully familiar position going into 2022.
Despite being conceived 80 years ago as part of a larger network of pumping stations designed to control flooding in multiple states along the Mississippi River, the south Delta’s pumps have remained in political limbo many more years than being an active project.
All of the river pumps proposed in the wake of the 1927 flood were completed years ago, with one notable exception, and that is the Yazoo Backwater station.
This, according to Peter Nimrod, who spoke to the Indianola Rotary Club this week about the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent order that put the project on hold once again.
Nimrod and others have been in fight mode for decades when it comes to the pumps, and there’s no thought of laying down now, even in the face of a “rogue” EPA that President Joe Biden seemed to pepper with more radicalism than pragmatism last January.
Even with Republican President Donald Trump in office, it still required nearly every hour of those four years to get the go-ahead from his EPA to start construction on the pumps. The approval was literally one of the final acts of the Trump administration just prior to Biden’s inauguration.
Even if the White House changes parties in 2024, it would likely still take years to reverse the damage done by the EPA last month when it reinstated a 2008 veto on the pumps.
Agricultural damages alone have topped over $400 million across a dozen floods since that veto.
The government has paid out around $350 million back to the farmers who lost crops during that time, Nimrod said.
Outside of farming, the almost annual flooding disproportionately affects people of color living in the south Delta region, many of whom live below the poverty line.
And then there’s the decimated wildlife that radical environmental groups claim they are protecting in all of this.
Something has to be done to alleviate the human and animal suffering in that region.
If not the pumps, then what?
Nimrod listed a myriad of individuals and organizations that have come on board in favor of the pumps in recent years, some of them being pragmatic left-leaning groups and some even members of Biden’s own administration.
Congressman Bennie Thompson continues to at least offer lip service for his constituents in the south Delta when it comes to the pumps.
Fair-minded liberals recognize that the south Delta flooding over the past decade has been an environmental catastrophe, far exceeding any negative impact that would stem from the pumps.
With most Republicans backing the pumps, along with some support from the left, Nimrod and the pumps brigade do have options moving forward.
Wait For 2024
The 2024 presidential election shapes up to be another round of Biden versus Trump.
We know that a Trump EPA would likely reverse course - again - and allow construction to begin on the pumps, so long as they are funded by Congress.
The risk lies there.
Even if Trump regains the White House, it’s hard to know what the political makeup of Congress will be.
If Republicans control both houses, the pumps should get fully funded, and the project should reach long-awaited completion.
Should the Democrats have control then, they would likely adopt a policy of blocking any Trump-backed agenda. Despite potentially having the support of a few Democrats, the pumps would be collateral damage.
Make It Law
Nimrod made it clear that the pumps crowd is tired of playing games with the EPA.
He seems unwilling to go through the same decade-plus roller coaster ride again.
He proposed waiting for a political shift in Washington, one that would likely see the Republicans take back the House and Senate.
Then they would simply ask Congress to pass a law demanding the pumps be built.
That would all depend on the Republicans doing well in the midterm elections coming up next year.
If the party gains one house, and not the other, that plan would likely be in peril.
Make It A
We quizzed Nimrod this week as to whether the pumps legally had to be a federal undertaking.
It would not be an easy task for the state to conceive its own alternative pumping station, but there may never be a better time to consider this approach.
The state is currently flush with cash, and the Legislature is looking for ways to spend it.
Heck, there’s enough cash in the state’s Rainy Day fund to finance the pumps project and pay for the legal fees for the lawsuits certain to follow.
If the EPA, along with the usual suspects in the environmentalist world, sue the state for building its own pumping station, the burden would then be on the litigants to prove the alleged negative environmental impact.
In the event the case made it to a conservative Supreme Court, the court could rule the state is within its right to build its own pumping station, absent proof of an impending environmental catastrophe that would require federal intervention.
The risk in this approach lies with the Legislature, which may not be as apt to part with over a half a billion dollars of its own money.
It’s easy to cast a vote in favor of a project when the feds are going to pay the bill, but legislators have had over $7 billion in funding requests from their constituents since news broke that the state’s cup currently runneth over.
Politicians have to appease their bases.
Even the bluff, however, of a state-funded pumps project could prompt the EPA to return to the negotiating table and get this project funded and finished the right way, through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In a time when radical partisanship has overtaken the good senses of the political class, all options have to be on the table.