The Environmental Protection Agency has opened a federal civil rights investigation into the state of Mississippi over the Jackson water crisis.
On Thursday, in response to complaints filed by the NAACP and Jackson residents, the EPA announced it will investigate whether the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality “discriminated against the majority Black population of the City of Jackson on the basis of race in the funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities,” the announcement said.
The NAACP praised the EPA’s action.
“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,” said NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Director Abré Conner. “For far too long, residents of Jackson, like Black communities across this country, have had water access weaponized against them.”
The city of roughly 150,000 residents is 83% Black.
CNN has reached out to Gov. Tate Reeves’ office for comment.
The water crisis got so bad for several months this year that the National Guard was dispatched to help distribute bottled water around the city, which is Mississippi’s capital.
Resident Virginia Evans told CNN recently the water problems have been so troubling that she remains afraid to drink or cook with it despite state officials lifting a more-than 40-day boil-water notice last month and declaring the water safe.
In the past six months, sometimes her toilets wouldn’t flush or the water coming out the faucets at her home was brown and had low pressure, she said.
The city has long faced issues with its water system. Residents and activists point to years of systemic neglect as one of the main drivers. Some city leaders have blamed the state for not answering their calls for assistance with upgrading the decrepit water system.
According to the most recent data from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the state’s water crisis bill for the year has reached $12.6 million. Bottled water for distribution events accounts for about 25% of that amount.
The EPA has pressed the city for improvements for years, and in September the US Justice Department, on behalf of the environmental agency, asked the city to “engage in immediate negotiations related to the City’s recent drinking water crisis,” according to a letter obtained by CNN affiliate WAPT. Officials from both agencies met with the mayor, the Justice Department told CNN last month in a statement.
It was no invitation for polite chit-chat, as the highest law enforcement office in the land warned it was prepared to file a lawsuit under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which charges the EPA with setting and enforcing baseline health standards for tap water. The EPA has launched an investigation into Jackson’s water crisis.