EPA closes discrimination probes into Jackson water crisis, finding ‘insufficient evidence’

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed its civil rights probes into the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., saying there was “insufficient evidence” to say that the state discriminated against residents on the basis of race.

This week, the agency said in letters to state departments that received federal drinking water funding that it found “insufficient evidence between the amount of funding disbursed … to Jackson and the racial composition of the community over time.”

It also said that it found “insufficient evidence of a relationship between the racial composition of communities receiving funds versus those not receiving funds.”

The probes were opened in 2022 after flooding caused issues at the city’s water plant, leaving many residents without drinking water. The incident came on top of other long-standing problems including leaks and breaks, broken monitoring equipment and lead contamination, which can damage children’s brains and nervous systems.

Following the flood incident, the NAACP lodged a civil rights complaint, alleging that the state discriminated against the people of Jackson, a majority-Black city, by not giving it a fair share of federal water infrastructure funding.

The complaint said that the state was “aware of Jackson’s severe needs, but distributed to the city only a small fraction and disproportionately low amount” of the federal funds it received.

“Despite Jackson’s status as the most populous city in Mississippi, State agencies awarded federal funds from the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF) just three times in the twenty-five years that this program has been in existence. Meanwhile, the State has funneled funds to majority-white areas in Mississippi despite their less acute needs,” the NAACP said.

The NAACP’s president, Derrick Johnson, echoed a similar sentiment.

“The majority Black city of Jackson has consistently been starved of resources — including safe, clean drinking water,” Johnson, a resident of Jackson, said in a statement to The Hill. “We maintain that the residents of Jackson were discriminated against.”

The closure of the probes without a discrimination finding follows a similar outcome to the EPA’s investigation of state actions relating to chemical pollution in Louisiana. The EPA did not find discrimination by the state toward the predominantly Black residents of an industrial corridor known as “Cancer Alley” in a probe it closed last year.

Chris Wells, executive director of Mississippi’s Department of Environmental Quality, touted the outcome of the Jackson probes in a written statement.

“The evidence overwhelmingly shows that the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality did everything right,” Wells said.

The state’s health department shared a statement saying that it “is committed to the equal opportunity for all counties, municipalities, districts and other water organizations to access the State’s Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund.”

Asked for further comment on the probes’ closure, an EPA spokesperson pointed to the $600 million the administration is devoting to address water issues in Jackson and said the agency will continue to work on its water issues.

Updated at 9:04 pm EST.

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