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McCain turning back on roots in pumping station fight?

The younger McCain, who went on to become a naval aviator and a prisoner of war in Vietnam before being elected to the U.S. Senate, seemed to take pride in his family’s roots in the bluff hills around Carrollton.

McCain’s ancestors might have been turning over in their graves if they had read an amendment that the Arizona senator attempted to attach to an omnibus appropriations bill Jan. 23. The amendment would have removed start-up funding for the Yazoo Backwater Pumping Station in the south Delta of Mississippi.

Flood control has always been an important topic in both the hill and Delta areas of Mississippi. We forget that “hill” towns like Batesville, Grenada and even Jackson owe their existence to the foresight of the proponents of the reservoirs that protect them.

Sen. McCain reportedly intended to introduce a block of amendments, including one that would have reversed last year’s legislation that barred the labeling of imported Vietnamese basa fish as “U.S. farm-raised catfish.”

Senate leaders ruled McCain could not bring all the amendments to the floor due to jurisdictional issues. So, environmental lobbyists persuaded him to offer his Yazoo Backwater Pumping Station amendment for a test vote.

Thanks to the arguments of Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott in favor of the pumping station and the support of senators from surrounding states, McCain’s amendment was defeated by a resounding 69-27-vote margin.

“The environmentalists made a huge tactical error in this case,” said a farm organization leader. “Not only did they lose the vote, but now Sen. Cochran can go to the Bush administration and say ‘Look how strongly the Senate supports this project.’”

Following the vote, McCain took the Senate floor and blasted the farm-raised catfish industry, displaying a picture of a cow and a catfish in an apparent reference to the tactics used by catfish farmers last year to show that Vietnamese basa fish are a different species from U.S. catfish.

The attack was reminiscent of McCain’s speeches in the closing days of the 2000 South Carolina Republican presidential primary when it was clear McCain would lose to George W. Bush.

For an area that is relatively isolated and little populated, the south Delta has become a magnet for environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council. Recently, Sierra Club members have been pushing a plan to relocate South Delta residents and let the area “go back to nature.”

The problem is the south Delta residents don’t want to leave. They have agreed to some compromise measures, including giving up 62,000 acres of land for a reforestation project and higher flood levels than they would have liked, but they have continued to fight for their pumping station.

And, although many are less educated and lower income folks than the “silk-stocking” environmentalists on the other side of the issue, the south Delta residents seem to be winning all the battles.

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