Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the launching of an investigation to determine if the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) discriminated against the state’s majority-Black capital city by refusing to fund improvements for the water systems.
The investigation is believed to take about four months to complete, as Congressmen Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has questioned where almost $11 billion in funding has been distributed within the state. $429 million of those funds alone are “specifically allotted to enhance the state’s water infrastructure.”
Former U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst explained that the EPA has 180 days to find any violations of law, specifically if the state withheld funds from Jackson with the intention of racial discrimination. If any proof of violations is found, the EPA will report its findings to the Department of Justice.
Hurst added that it is not the first time that the EPA has conducted an investigation on the City of Jackson’s water system, as the Department of Health reported the capital city in April 2020. The results from the investigation showed that Jackson’s main water treatment plant, O.B. Curtis, and other facilities were on the brink of breaking down.
According to Hurst, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba hid the results that showed that “the treatment center was in an imminent and substantial danger of disserving the health of the citizens of Jackson” for one year before presenting them to the city council.
For over two years following the report, Jackson’s water system repeatedly failed to provide clean drinking water to Jackson’s residents, with many questioning if the system’s issues originated in the city’s water treatment plants or the city officials.
In July 2022, one month before the state stepped in to fix the city’s water system failure, the EPA joined with the University of North Carolina to assess if it would be better for the water system to be governed by an entity other than the Jackson City Council.
The results from the assessment showed that there was a severe shortage of personnel running both the water treatment facilities and the billing to customers.
“The water department had no utilities manager, that they had insufficient staff for three shifts seven days a week, that the water meters were malfunctioning—they were only working 70 percent of the time — 14,000 bills had not been sent to or received by customers,” Hurst stated. “Here is the thing that blew me away: 50 percent of the water that is being sent out is not generating any revenue.”
Hurst explained that he believes the persisting issues from Jackson’s failing water system do not originate in a lack of funding, but rather, from Lumumba’s leadership.
“He’s always the victim. It’s never his fault. It’s always someone else’s fault,” Hurst said. “Getting Bennie Thompson to gin up a congressional investigation, getting the EPA to gin up an administrative investigation… These are all things to distract the public from the incompetence of this mayor, and frankly, from potentially damaging the health and safety of the citizens of Jackson.”
Hurst added that the mayor should be prioritizing getting clean water to the city’s residents, not displacing the blame for Jackson’s water infrastructure.
“This is a shell game being put on by Derrick Johnson, Chokwe Lumumba, and their henchmen in order to divert attention to the incompetence, and frankly, I would say even some really bad ill-will their part not to deliver services,” Hurst explained. “This is the basis of government. The basis of government is protecting our people and delivering basic services like trash pickup, like water.”
The full interview with Hurst can be watched below.