Nov 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jackson City Council approves EPA plan for long-term water solutions

Photo of Michael Regan speaking from a podium

Michael Regan, then the nominee for EPA administrator, speaks on Dec. 19, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Joshua Roberts via Getty Images

Jackson, Mississippi has moved one step closer to engaging federal oversight for long-term water solutions after more than 150,000 people faced outages and weeks of unsafe drinking water during the city's most recent water crisis.

Driving the news: The city council voted this week to approve a 12-month legal agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enable its involvement as Jackson works to build a self-sustaining water system.

What they're saying: "It's a cooperative agreement that will give the city an opportunity in a short amount of time to try to make sure we have clean, safe, reliable drinking water for the constituents," City Council member Angelique C. Lee Ward told reporters after the vote.

  • "We have all hopes and intention that in 12 months, we'll be at a functioning place and we won't have to be taken over in any other capacity," Ward added. "I think with the proper experts on staff and this third-party manager and the EPA heavily involved that we can achieve that more than we ever could have before."

"We are encouraged by the Jackson City Council’s decision to approve the interim stipulated order," EPA spokesperson Maria Michalos said in a statement to Axios.

  • "EPA looks forward to working across all levels of government" to ensure access to "safe and reliable water, now and in the future."
  • "People have lost trust in their government and 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," EPA Administrator Michael Regan told CNN upon his visit to Jackson on Tuesday.

What's next: Regan said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has voiced his endorsement for the plan, must sign off before the Department of Justice can file it to a federal judge for final approval, according to Michalos.

Worth noting: The EPA announced last month 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.

  • The probe came after the NAACP filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of Jackson residents, 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 recent water crisis.
  • The state is also the subject of a joint investigation launched by leaders of two congressional committees who are looking into how federal dollars were spent.

The big picture: A group of Jackson residents filed a separate class action lawsuit in September against the city, its current and former mayors, city officials and engineering companies.

  • The residents accuse them of neglecting the city's water supply for decades and holding them responsible for lead and other contaminants released into Jackson’s drinking water.

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