The Environmental Protection Agency proposes a long-term presence in Jackson due to the water crisis



CNN

The US Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to propose a long-term presence on the ground in Jackson, Mississippi, to help fix decades-old problems with its drinking. A source familiar with the matter told CNN Tuesday.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Reagan Jackson visited Tuesday in the wake of ongoing negotiations with city and state officials, which, according to the source, are intended to create a legal agreement for continued federal involvement in the operation of the predominantly African American city’s water system.

“People have lost faith in their government, so this will give transparency to the process but also having a federal court in Jackson’s backyard to oversee and call fair shots is exactly what we need to rebuild not only the infrastructure but the trust that the community has lost,” Reagan told CNN in a statement. later on Tuesday.

Jackson Mayor Chukwue Antar Lumumba said he fully “supports” the EPA’s presence in Jackson to help resolve the crisis.

Reagan said the agreement to ensure safe drinking water must be approved by the city council and signed by the mayor before it is submitted by the US Department of Justice to federal court for oversight.

“We are moving with a sense of urgency because we know the existence of this agreement — approved and governed by a federal court — will provide a level of transparency that the community has been seeking,” Reagan told reporters.

“It will also keep us all on the same page, going in the same direction, as we invest … millions of dollars in water infrastructure in Jackson.”

Reagan’s trip included a public forum alongside city officials and community representatives on Tuesday afternoon.

This is the official’s fourth trip to Jackson. Reagan’s first flight This came during the EPA’s “Journey to Justice Tour,” which launched in November 2021 to highlight environmental injustices, particularly in black and brown communities.

Months after that initial visit, Jackson suffered a major water plant failure after heavy flooding. This failure highlighted long-standing issues with Jackson Water due to crumbling and neglected infrastructure, including a rickety water plant and outdated pipes that city and state leaders had long known about and failed to properly maintain.

The crisis affected approximately 150,000 residents of Jackson. The latest setback came after the city’s main water treatment plant began to collapse during floods in August, leaving people without drinking water and shortages in flushing toilets and putting out fires. Even after water pressure was restored, the liquid from the taps was still not safe to drink.

The Environmental Protection Agency launched an investigation in mid-September, with it weeks away from issuing an advisory that requires boiling tap water before using it for drinking, cooking, making ice, washing dishes or brushing teeth.

The crisis was fueled in part by heavy rains that flooded the Pearl River and affected pumps at the main water treatment facility. The floods exacerbated longstanding problems at the OB Curtis water treatment plant in Jackson.

The Environmental Protection Agency has opened a federal civil rights investigation over the crisis that affected a city with a population of 83% African American.

In response to complaints from the NAACP and Jackson residents, the EPA said it would investigate whether the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality “discriminate against majority black residents of Jackson on the basis of race in funding for water infrastructure, remediation programs, and activities.”

Mississippi last month extended the state of emergency in the city through November 22, empowering the state health department and emergency management agency to oversee repairs at the water treatment plant.

Lumumba, a Democrat, said the water plant remains “at risk” and that in the long term “we need a new water treatment facility for the city… everything.” The mayor added that he is concerned about cold temperatures and severe weather in the near future.

The water issues have led to sparring between city officials and the administration of Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican.

Residents and activists attribute the water problems to years of systemic neglect, and some city leaders have explicitly blamed the state for not being responsive to their demands to modernize the crumbling system.

Jackson’s plight is similar to that of Flint, Michigan, another predominantly black community that has struggled for water since 2014. With about 54% African American population, Flint grappled with old pipes, lead pollution and Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

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