2003 Scorecard Vote
Although wetlands are known to serve vital environmental functions, among them filtering water and controlling floods, flood control is, ironically, often the justification cited by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for draining wetlands. Such is the case with the Corps' controversial Yazoo pumps project, which would construct one of the world's largest pumping stations to carry water over a flood control levee into Mississippi's Yazoo River. The Environmental Protection Agency has warned that the Yazoo pumps would degrade more than 200,000 acres of ecologically significant wetlands in the Mississippi Flyway--more than seven times the amount of wetlands destroyed nationwide each year under the Clean Water Act's Section 404 permit program. The pumps would also alter the hydrology of the entire 925,000-acre project area, as well as the four Mississippi delta rivers that flow through it. While the Corps contends the project would benefit local agriculture, independent economic studies have shown that those benefits are inflated by an estimated $144 million.
During consideration of the fiscal year 2003 energy and water appropriations bill, later incorporated into the omnibus appropriations bill, Senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) introduced a rider directing the Corps to contract for the design and purchase of the Yazoo pumps, even though the agency had yet to finish an environmental impact statement or a feasibility study for the project.
During debate on the 2003 omnibus spending bill, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment to reduce project funding to the level recommended in the President's budget so that the Corps could properly carry out its planning. The amendment also deleted language from the omnibus bill that required "continuing contracts," a provision that forces the Corps to immediately lock in contracts to build the entire project, rather than staggering contract commitments over time to allow for modifying and updating project plans. This provision could ultimately force the federal government to cover the project's entire projected cost of $181 million. On January 23, 2003, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced a motion to table (or kill) the McCain amendment. The motion passed by a 67-30 vote (Senate roll call vote 23). NO is the pro-environment vote.
On February 20, President Bush signed the omnibus spending bill into law. At press time, the Corps had not yet released a final environmental impact statement for the Yazoo project.