Oct 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

EPA opens civil rights investigation into Jackson water crisis

Photo of a person handling a carton of water bottles

Cases of bottled water are distributed to residents at a Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition distribution site on Aug. 31, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi. Photo: Brad Vest via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Thursday that it has opened an investigation into whether Mississippi state agencies discriminated against the majority-Black population in Jackson in their funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs.

Why it matters: The NAACP filed a discrimination complaint last month on behalf of Jackson residents, including NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, alleging that the state's "decades-long pattern and practice of discriminating against the City of Jackson" threatened their health, safety and livelihoods during the most recent water crisis.

  • The state — and Gov. Tate Reeves (R) — have faced increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, with leaders of two congressional committees announcing a joint investigation into the crisis and how federal dollars were spent.

What they're saying: The NAACP applauded the EPA's decision, which was conveyed in a letter on Thursday.

  • "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 Jackon's water," Johnson said in a statement.
  • "For far too long, residents of Jackson, like Black communities across this country, have had water access weaponized against them," added NAACP environmental and climate justice director Abre' Conner. "Today's decision by the EPA is a significant first step in holding the state accountable for its role in exacerbating the Jackson water crisis."

Worth noting: Several Jackson residents have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, its current and former mayors, city officials and engineering companies, alleging that years of neglect culminated in the water outages that impacted more than 150,000 people.

The big picture: Both Reeves and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba have attempted to paint the other as responsible for the crisis.

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