EPA, Jackson, water crisis, Mississippi, discrimination

EPA: ‘Insufficient Evidence’ of Racial Discrimination Behind Jackson, Mississippi’s Water Crisis

The NAACP is "outraged at the inadequate findings presented by the EPA."

In its investigation of Jackson, Mississippi water crisis, the Environmental Protection Agency found insufficient evidence that the choices of two Mississippi agencies’ choices, the department of environmental quality and department of health, were shaped by racial discrimination.

The Office of External Civil Rights Compliance released the findings of its investigation, which started in 2022, last week.

As the Associated Press reports, the conclusion was released a few weeks after both the national and state branches of the NAACP as well as nine residents of Jackson, Mississippi, filed a lawsuit alleging that the State of Mississippi maintained a “practice of systematically depriving Jackson the funds that it needs to operate and maintain its water facilities in a safe and reliable manner.”

As The Hill reports, the NAACP argued in the lawsuit that Mississippi consistently sent money to white areas.

“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.”

According to the EPA’s ruling, it investigated certain concerns, which included whether or not the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs is discriminatory. Chris Wells, Mississippi’s Department of Environmental Quality director, told the AP, “The evidence overwhelmingly shows that the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality did everything right,” Wells said. “These allegations were entirely false and have been a distraction to the mission of our agency.”

In the Factual Analysis, the FDA does allow for a slightly more nuanced reading than Wells says.

“This finding of insufficient evidence of discrimination does not mean that there is no assistance available for residents of Jackson. The problems associated with the water crisis experienced by the community are very real, and EPA–along with MDEQ, the City of Jackson, and the U.S. Department of Justice–have committed to work together to address this public health crisis. Perhaps most notably, in December 2022, Congress allotted $600 million to address the drinking water crisis in Jackson.”

The EPA also enumerated several actions the state could take, including setting limits on SRF (state revolving loan funds) forgiveness limits such as the amount, caps, and size of a community that is eligible to receive aid, all of which affects a system the size of Jackson’s. In addition, it recommended changing the length of the loan repayment term, modifying the administrative fee assessment, and utilizing either zero or negative interest loans which would make those loans more affordable for SRF loan recipients with large needs and a small revenue base.

“The NAACP is outraged at the inadequate findings presented by the EPA this week,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of NAACP, said in a press release. “Since day one of this crisis, we have been on the ground, speaking with residents and community leaders. One thing remains clear: racial discrimination and neglect have left a majority Black, capital city in crisis. While it is our hope that state leaders take the necessary steps to enact EPA’s recommendations, we know that this fight is far from over. The NAACP remains committed to using every tool at our disposal to ensure that all Black Americans have access to clean drinking water. When elected leaders fail us, it is our community that carries us forward. Together, we will make clean drinking water a reality for all.” 

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