Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sen. Durbin Urges U.S. EPA Veto of Contentious Mississippi River Levee Project

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote a July 30 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Council on Environmental Quality urging the EPA to use Clean Water Act authority to stop the controversial St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project along the Mississippi River in Missouri. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project would reduce flood impacts on small communities and a large area of agricultural land behind the levee system, by cutting off the Mississippi River from the only area in Missouri where the River has significant connection with its natural floodplain. The $165 million project has been the subject of legal action and the focus of heated debate among its supporters and detractors since it was first proposed in the 1950s. Proponents and the Army Corps maintain that its benefits outweigh the loss of the wetlands, and opponents - including scientists, taxpayer advocates and environmentalists - argue that the levee will sever one of the River’s few remaining natural flows, and destroy critical fish-spawning and birding habitat.

“The St. Johns Bayou New Madrid Floodway project is in direct conflict with the Clean Water Act and this Administration’s commitment to wetlands protection, wildlife conservation, and modern flood risk management,” Durbin wrote in the letter. “I urge EPA to veto this project to protect the environment and the safety and well-being of Illinoisans.”

The EPA can initiate a Clean Water Act, Section 404(c) “veto” of a project if it determines that a proposed permit activity is likely to result in significant loss of or damage to fisheries, shellfishing, wildlife habitat, or recreation areas.

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