Energy & Environment

EPA confirms civil rights investigation into Jackson water crisis

Clouds are reflected off the City of Jackson’s O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Facility’s sedimentation basins in Ridgeland, Miss., Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Jackson’s water system partially failed following flooding and heavy rainfall that exacerbated longstanding problems in one of two water-treatment plants. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a civil rights investigation into the water crisis that left residents of Jackson, Miss., without water earlier this year, the agency confirmed in a letter to the NAACP.

The civil rights organization filed a complaint alleging a pattern of discrimination by the state in its predominantly Black capital, prompting the EPA’s Office of External Civil Rights Compliance (OECR) to confirm the probe Thursday.

In the letter, acting OECR head Anhthu Hoang said the office will investigate whether the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health discriminated along racial lines in funding for water infrastructure, “by intent or effect, ” as well as whether the two departments have adequate guardrails in place against such discrimination.

Proceeding with the investigation does not equate to confirming the allegations, and the EPA office will have 180 days to conduct the probe.

In a statement, NAACP President Derrick Johnson praised the EPA’s move but added, “This action is only the first step.”

“NAACP and its partners will continue to press the Biden Administration and Congress to hold state officials accountable and ensure that Jackson officials and residents are active participants in the decision-making that will be required to fix the unacceptable problems with Jackson’s water,” he said.

Jackson’s water infrastructure has fallen into disrepair over the past several decades, as large numbers of its wealthier and white populace left the city following integration, shrinking its tax base. The latest water crisis came after flooding knocked the city water treatment plant offline, but it marked Jackson’s second water crisis in as many years.

The state government was allocated about $75 million in funds to update water infrastructure from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law last year, but put none of it toward the Jackson system. Earlier this week, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), whose district includes most of Jackson, wrote to Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to seek further answers on the state’s use of federal water funds.

The Hill has reached out to Reeves’s office for comment.

Tags Anhthu Hoang Bennie Thompson Biden administration Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Carolyn Maloney Carolyn Maloney Derrick Johnson Derrick Johnson Environmental Protection Agency House Homeland Security Committee House Oversight and Reform Committee Jackson Jackson water crisis Mississippi Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Mississippi Department of Health NAACP Office of External Civil Rights Compliance Tate Reeves Tate Reeves
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