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Exclusive: How radical Republicans are finishing off an endangered fish

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Sarah Okeson
Sarah Okeson

The pallid sturgeon, a bottom-dwelling fish found in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, has survived since the days of the dinosaurs, but it might not survive Missouri’s Republican politicians.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) sponsored an amendment that made it into legislation Trump signed in October, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, S.3021, to block efforts to help young pallid sturgeon that suffocate and die in the dead zones of the industrialized Missouri River.

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“For the sake of landowners, businesses and taxpayers, I believe we must halt these activities until the Corps can prove more harm will not be done to Missourians,” Graves said.

The new law blocks plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a dozen areas in the river below Kansas City, Mo., for just-hatched pallid sturgeon to feed and grow in slower, shallower water. Six major dams built on the 2,341-mile river between 1933 and 1964 created dead zones with very little oxygen where the young pallid sturgeon suffocate and die. The fish, which can grow to 80 pounds and live 60 years or more, were listed as endangered in 1990.

Two shallow areas to help newly-hatched pallid sturgeon survive were built at Searcy Bend, near Huntsdale, Mo., and Baltimore Bend, near Waverly, Mo. The law Trump signed blocks building more areas until a report is done about the impact on flood control and navigation.

The American Waterways Operators, the national trade organization for the barge industry, opposes building these areas, saying they could hinder navigation. The organization gave $273,000 to federal candidates in the 2018 election cycle, including $7,500 to Graves.

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Despite politicians’ support, the Missouri River plays a very small role in agricultural markets. In 2017, the 5 million short tons of cargo transported, most of it sand and gravel, was 1.6% of what was transported on the Mississippi River.

Historically, flooding was common on the Missouri River with floods up to 17 miles wide. When Lewis and Clark explored the river, it had multiple channels, islands, shallow sloughs and oxbow lakes. The Corps transformed the river into a nine-foot-deep by 300-foot-wide navigation channel from Sioux City, Iowa to the mouth of the river near St. Louis.

Flooding in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 has been among the worst flooding years in the river’s history. In March 2018, a federal judge ruled that the Corps was responsible for flooding in some of those years because of changes to try to protect endangered species. The damage estimates for this year along the Missouri and Platte rivers already top $1 billion, and that’s just for repairing levees.

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John Echeverria, a professor at Vermont Law School, said it is unclear whether flooding of private land along the Missouri in recent years has been any greater than it would have been if the federal government hadn’t spent millions to build the flood control system on the Missouri River.

Missouri politicians now are proposing the Missouri River Flood Control Prioritization Act, S.1571, which could bar the Corps from trying to prevent extinction of the pallid sturgeon. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sponsors the bill. Co-sponsors include Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa.) Graves is the sponsor of the House version of the bill.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to get its priorities straight, and that means putting flood control and navigation first,” Blunt said.

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Featured image: Pallid sturgeon (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)


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Iran accuses foreign forces of raising Gulf ‘insecurity’ — but doesn’t mention Trump by name

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President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday denounced the presence of foreign forces in the Gulf and said Iran will present a peace plan, after its arch-foe Washington ordered reinforcements to the tense region.

"Foreign forces can cause problems and insecurity for our people and for our region," Rouhani said before a military parade commemorating the Iran-Iraq war.

Rouhani also said Iran would present a peace plan to the United Nations within days.

"In this sensitive and important historical moment, we announce to our neighbours that we extend the hand of friendship and brotherhood to them," he said.

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US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday declared themselves united in a relentless fight against "terrorism," vowing a close, personal alliance in front of tens of thousands of Indian-Americans.

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This week it was revealed that President Donald Trump did something so concerning that an intelligence staffer felt the need to report the incident and file for whistleblower protections.

Trump asked Ukraine to look into scandals about former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter. For nearly a year, Trump's former attorney Rudy Giuliani was admittedly working to persuade officials in Ukraine to find "dirt" on the Bidens that they could use in the election. While the accusations against the younger Biden have been disproven, it's suspected, but not confirmed, that this was the incident detailed in the complaint.

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