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EPA chief listens to water issues in Mississippi capital

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Tuesday the agency is still working on a plan to make long-term improvements to Mississippi’s capital water system. , which nearly collapsed more than two months ago.

“I’m here for the fourth time in a year because I want to hear from you directly,” Regan told dozens of business people, elected officials, pastors and others at a meeting at the Jackson State University.

Radhika Fox, EPA Deputy Administrator for Water, joined Regan and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba for the rally.

Jackson struggled with water issues for decades. Most of the city lost running water for several days after heavy rains exacerbated problems at the city’s main sewage treatment plant in late August. When it happened, Jackson had already been on a month-long boil water advisory because health inspectors found cloudy water that could make people sick.

About 80 percent of Jackson’s 150,000 residents are black, and about a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

The boil water advisory was lifted in mid-September, but many people remain skeptical about the water quality. State Rep. Bo Brown, a Democrat from Jackson, asked Regan on Tuesday if the EPA could do anything to instill confidence in people that the water is safe to drink.

“You still hear people say, ‘Well, I’m not so sure,'” Brown said.

Regan said he spent time with a 98-year-old woman at her Jackson home and she gave him advice: Put politics aside and start working on a solution.

“The mayor and I have talked about it several times. We know we have to earn trust,” Regan said.

The EPA announced Oct. 20 that it had begun investigating whether Mississippi state agencies discriminated against Jackson by refusing to fund improvements for his failing water system. . Regan told reporters he could not provide details of that investigation on Tuesday.

On October 31, the EPA announced that tests had shown Jackson’s water to be safe to drink. The agency encouraged residents to pay attention to future boil water advisories. He wasn’t sure yet that Jackson had too much lead and copper in his water; sampling is complete and results are expected this month.

Regan’s first trip to Jackson as EPA leader was a “Journey to Justice” tour late last year to bring attention to environmental issues in low-income, mostly minority, communities. of the Gulf Coast states. Three of Regan’s trips to Jackson have been since the water crisis began in late August.

The Jackson system still faces major and costly repairs. The state health department and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency began overseeing operations and repairs at the facility.

Lumumba told reporters after the meeting on Tuesday that he wanted Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to extend the state of emergency for Jackson’s water system, which is due to expire next Monday.

Lumumba told the meeting that water issues are disrupting the economy, disrupting schools and universities, and affecting the quality of life.

“We are ready to end these cycles of humiliation,” Lumumba said.

The Rev. Dwayne K. Pickett Sr., pastor of New Jerusalem Church in Jackson, told EPA officials that as Jackson’s water system is repaired, he wants to see meaningful contractor participation. minority.

Fox said she started her career in water in San Francisco and the city made efforts to include minority contractors, such as breaking up large contracts into smaller ones. She said the EPA is looking at equity issues in Jackson and elsewhere. She said replacing aging infrastructure should be done in a way that includes “creating energy and creating wealth” for affected communities.

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