Mississippi agency denies NAACP’s water discrimination claim

Jan 7, 2023, 11:18 PM | Updated: Jan 8, 2023, 1:26 pm
FILE - EPA Administrator Michael Regan, right, speaks to reporters at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatme...

FILE - EPA Administrator Michael Regan, right, speaks to reporters at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, a Ridgeland, Miss.-based facility near Jackson, Miss., about longstanding water issues that have plagued the city, Nov. 15, 2021. A Mississippi environmental regulator has denied claims that the state agency he leads discriminated against the capital city of Jackson in allocating federal funds and said he believed an ongoing civil rights investigation into the matter was politically motivated. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi environmental regulator has denied claims that the state agency he leads discriminated against the capital city of Jackson in its distribution of federal funds for wastewater treatment.

In a recently unearthed letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Christopher Wells wrote that the NAACP has “failed to allege a single fact to support” its argument that the agency discriminated against Jackson. He said he believed the ongoing civil rights investigation into the matter was politically motivated.

“Jackson received a loan for every completed application it submitted,” Wells wrote. “And, because the amount of the loan is based on the cost of the project, no loans were reduced for any reason that could be considered discriminatory.”

Disruptions to Jackson’s water services have ailed the city for years, and its system nearly collapsed in late August after heavy rainfall exacerbated problems at the city’s main water treatment plant. Most of Jackson lost running water for several days, and people had to wait in lines for water to drink, cook, bathe and flush toilets.

Wells’ Dec. 16 letter was sent almost three months after the NAACP filed a federal complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids federal fund recipients from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin. The complaint said that Mississippi officials “all but assured” a drinking water calamity by depriving Jackson of badly needed funds to upgrade its infrastructure.

Over 25 years, Jackson received funds from an important federal program only three times, the NAACP said. When Jackson tried to fund improvements itself, those efforts were repeatedly blocked by state political leaders, according to the complaint.

The EPA announced on Oct. 20 that it was investigating whether Mississippi state agencies discriminated against the state’s majority-Black capital city by refusing to fund improvements to the water system. EPA Administrator Michael Regan has visited Jackson multiple times and has said “longstanding discrimination” has contributed to the decline of the city’s water system.

The federal agency could withhold money from Mississippi if it finds wrongdoing — potentially millions of dollars. If the state agencies don’t cooperate with the investigation, the EPA could refer the case to the Department of Justice.

In his letter, Wells wrote that alleged Title VI violations are “based on unarticulated and evolving standards” and would run “counter to this nation’s system of federalism,” WLBT-TV reported.

Wells wrote that the EPA investigation is “part and parcel of a political effort to divert attention away from the city of Jackson’s own failures.” He contends that Jackson’s water woes are results of city mismanagement rather than discrimination by the state.

The EPA had been aware of Jackson’s water problems for years, including when the city entered into a consent decree with the agency in 2012 after it was cited for violating the Clean Water Act, Wells wrote.

Competing claims over the cause of the capital city’s water trouble has ignited tension between local officials in Jackson, a Democratic stronghold, and Mississippi’s Republican state leaders.

The AP reported in September that when Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves was the state treasurer in 2011, he touted his own track record of fiscal conservatism by citing his opposition to spending state money for water and sewer projects in Jackson. The EPA is not investigating Reeves.

Ahead of the water crisis last summer, people in Jackson had been advised to boil water before consuming it because health officials obtained samples that showed the water could be dangerous to consume. That advisory remained in place until mid-September.

The problems returned again during Christmas weekend when frigid weather caused water lines to break and the city’s water distribution system failed to produce adequate pressure. Boil water notices in some city neighborhoods remained in place until Jan. 7.

Jackson is set to receive nearly $800 million in federal funds for its water system, the bulk of which comes from the $1.7 trillion spending bill that Congress passed in December.


Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-pop star Gary Glitter freed from UK prison

LONDON (AP) — Former pop star Gary Glitter was released from prison in England on Friday after serving half of a 16-year prison sentence for sexually abusing three young girls in the 1970s. The 79-year-old singer, whose real name is Paul Gadd, was freed from a prison in Dorset, in southwest England. It is common […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

World Health Organization employee released in Mali

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A World Health Organization employee was released in northern Mali after being abducted by unidentified assailants, a spokesperson said Friday. Dr. Mahamadou Diawara was freed Thursday afternoon and is in Gao town, Abdoulaye Cisse, communication officer for the WHO in Mali told The Associated Press. “We are conducting the formalities to […]
1 day ago
Rebecca Mwenda, wife to Josphert Mwenda who was murdered alongside human rights lawyer Willy Kimani...
Associated Press

Former Kenyan policeman sentenced to death for murder

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan former policeman was sentenced to death on Friday for the murder of a human rights lawyer, his client and a taxi driver. Frederick Leliman and three others were convicted of carrying out the murders in 2016, in one of a series of cases of alleged police brutality and extrajudicial […]
1 day ago
FILE - A Leopard 1 tank drives in Storkau, Germany, on May 19, 2000. Ukraine may be able to add old...
Associated Press

Ukraine may also get old Leopard 1 tanks from German stocks

BERLIN (AP) — Ukraine could add old Leopard 1 battle tanks from German defense industry stocks to deliveries of modern tanks that Berlin and other governments pledged last week to counter Russian forces in the war. German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit confirmed Friday that “export authorization has been granted” but declined to give numbers or […]
1 day ago
FILE - President Barack Obama, left, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the New START treat...
Associated Press

NATO urges Russia to respect nuclear pact with the US

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO called Friday on Russia to respect the only treaty it has with the United States aimed at keeping a lid on nuclear weapons expansion and urged Moscow to allow on-the-ground inspections of military sites to resume. The so-called New START Treaty was signed by Russia and the U.S. in 2010. It […]
1 day ago
This undated photo released by the Crown Prosecution Service on Friday Feb. 3, 2023, shows a crossb...
Associated Press

UK man admits treason over crossbow plot against queen

LONDON (AP) — A man who was arrested on the grounds of Windsor Castle with a loaded crossbow pleaded guilty to treason on Friday for planning to attack Queen Elizabeth II. Jaswant Singh Chail, 21, admitted to a charge under the Treason Act of intending to “injure the person of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Mississippi agency denies NAACP’s water discrimination claim