A Biden administration official today confirmed U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s assertion that the unfinished Yazoo Backwater Area pumps constitute an environmental injustice to Mississippians.
Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) again introduced the environmental justice subject during a Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the Biden administration’s FY2022 budget request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Until this project is completed, I would consider the perpetual flooding affecting the Yazoo Backwater Area to be a tremendous environmental injustice,” Hyde-Smith told Jamie Pinkham, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
Hyde-Smith highlighted Pinkham’s testimony listing of environmental justice as one key objective in developing the Army Corps budget, and recounted the hardships experienced by Yazoo Backwater residents, most of whom are minorities and many of whom live below the poverty level.
Asked why completion of the new Proposed Plan for the pump would not promote environmental justice, Pinkham responded, “I’ve had a chance to look at the information you just shared, as well, in my briefings from the [Vicksburg] District. For the very reasons, this to me as an alignment with environmental justice, the facts you’ve laid out and the briefings I’ve received on it.”
Hyde-Smith, who first addressed the environmental justice issue at an April hearing, also asked the Army Corps leadership if it would accept FY2022 appropriations despite the budget request not including the pumps project specifically.
“Unfortunately, the Corps FY2022 budget request fails to mention the Yazoo Backwater Area Project. That’s despite the fact that the Corps’ estimated FY2022 total capability for the project is approximately $25 million,” Hyde-Smith said. “Those funds could be used to complete the PED phase, continue NEPA documentation, and carry out other important activities to move this project along.”
Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, Chief of Engineers and Commanding General, reassured the Senator of the Army Corps’ commitment to the project.
“We remain committed to this project,” Spellmon said. “What we would like to see is $7.5 million if we’re offered a Work Plan. That will allow us to complete PED for the first construction contract and actually start turning dirt on this very important project.”
The Vicksburg District is currently utilizing $11.2 million, which Hyde-Smith worked to secure in FY2021 appropriations to carry out preconstruction, engineering, and design (PED) activities.
(Release from Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith)