Groups press Biden EPA to take emergency action amid Jackson’s ongoing water crisis

"We are talking about our health, our lives, our ability to make a living. Water is life. This petition is about making sure our voices, and our needs as residents, are centered in this process. It's only right."

SOURCECommon Dreams
Image Credit: Flickr

A coalition of Mississippi and national advocacy groups on Wednesday filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imploring urgent action to provide relief for communities suffering an ongoing water crisis in Jackson, the state capital.

The Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign (PPC-MS) and the People’s Advocacy Institute (PAI) led the petition on behalf of the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition. The filing—which was submitted under a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)—asks the EPA to use its emergency powers to order national, state, and local government agencies to ensure Jackson residents have access to safe drinking water and real-time alert systems to notify them about tap water issues.

“We are absolutely committed to ensuring that our communities are heard,” PPC-MS organizer Danyelle Holmes said in a statement. “We are talking about our health, our lives, our ability to make a living. Water is life. This petition is about making sure our voices, and our needs as residents, are centered in this process. It’s only right.”

As the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a coalition member, explained:

In August 2022, flooding shut down Jackson’s main water treatment plant, leaving thousands without safe drinking water. For the 160,000 residents of this 83% African-American city, this was only one episode in a multigenerational environmental injustice that has included lead contamination, hundreds of “boil water notices” due to the risk of the presence of disease-causing pathogens, and three complete shutoffs. A lack of trust in the system led most residents to stop drinking the water years ago.

Last November, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Jackson on behalf of the EPA over the city’s failure to provide residents with safe drinking water. City and state agencies subsequently agreed to accept federal oversight of Jackson’s water system. The DOJ hired Tedd Henifin—the retired manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia—for one year at $400,000 to oversee an overhaul of Jackson’s water system.

But coalition members allege Henifin “has excluded community members from regular, institutionalized engagement; failed to consistently and transparently inform residents about the status of the water system and repairs that led to the EPA filing the SDWA suit; and contracted with nonlocal businesses.”

Brooke Floyd, co-director of coalition member JXN People’s Assembly at the PAI, said: “What’s been missing in this process is community. This is about our health and safety, and these issues are too important to be decided without our participation.”

Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves—who on the campaign trail cited the role he played as lieutenant governor in blocking funding for Jackson’s failing water system as proof of his fiscal conservatism—said last year that he is open to privatizing the system, which was suffering from decades of discriminatory neglect long before the current crisis.

Although Congress has allocated over $600 million to fix Jackson’s water system, it is unclear how much of that will actually be spent on its intended purpose, given Reeves’ boast.

As CCR noted, “The Jackson water crisis is similar to those facing other majority-Black and Latinx cities and communities around the country.”

“Corroded and outdated water and wastewater systems,” the group says, “are threatening the health of residents in, among other places, Alexandria, Louisiana; Baltimore, Maryland; Laredo, Texas; and Lowndes County, Alabama.”


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.