The Yazoo Backwater Pumps Project is politics, says Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton), and people who would depend on the project to control flooding might want to look at alternatives. Thompson said he is a supporter of the project, which was vetoed during the George W. Bush administration, but indicated that political plays and negotiations are always a possibility that could sideline the pumps again.
"One of the big challenges is the last estimate was $500 million," he said. "That has to be put into the mix with everything else. I will continue to fight for it. I will continue to advocate for it. But, I think we ought to talk about what all the options are that could conceivably be on the table."
Click The Video Above to Listen to the Full Audio Of Thompson's Take on the Pumps
The project, which was conceived in the 1940s, has over 20 counterparts in the lower Mississippi basin, which have been in operation for the past 30 to 50 years. Flooding along the Mississippi, and consequently the Yazoo River and associated rivers and tributaries, led to renewed calls for the completion of the project.
Thompson blamed the Bush administration for the project having been stalled before.
"The Bush administration vetoed it. We'll try it again. We really had it pretty much funded. But, it just didn't happen. We'll try to continue to advocate for it. It's politics. A lot of people were supporting the Trump administration and they lost. So, now they're gonna have to support the Biden effort to get it through."
Thompson said that he won't sugar coat it, and called it "a challenge" repeatedly. He said the EPA has signed off on the project, despite objections from some environmental groups, like The Sierra Club, who claim the pumps would drain wetlands and would clear the way for aggressive farming.
"With everybody working together, we've got a good chance to craft a solution. I'm looking for a solution to the flooding."
Thompson said he is also working to encourage the Mississippi legislature to accept Medicaid expansion, and billions of dollars that he believes could keep some Delta hospitals out of bankruptcy.
"The money comes with no strings attached," said Thompson. He cited other states that have used the money in different ways, but said he believes the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, should consider the financial disposition of all of the state's hospitals.
"I want Mississippi to accept the Medicaid expansion dollars so the hospital in Kosciusko won't struggle as hard as it is, hospitals in LeFlore County and Coahoma County won't struggle as hard as they are because rural hospitals have a tough time making ends meet. The Affordable Care Act puts resources there, but the state has to accept them."
While the federal money may come with no strings attached, the state would be required to put up matching money to help fund new insurance coverage for as many as 220,000 people, a move rejected by two Republican administrations.
Thompson has no power in the state legislature, and did not specify how he might encourage legislators to take up a bill to expand the program.
Thompson also said he is supporting an infrastructure bill in the new administration, to help modernize Mississippi's roads and expand broadband. He's also active in promoting legislation to expand forgiveness of student loans, which he said would make it easier for highly qualified people to afford to stay and work in Mississippi after they graduate.