Republican Gov. Tate Reeves late final month declared a state of emergency for Jackson after torrential rains and flooding of the Pearl River overwhelmed the water remedy plant there, creating dangerously low water and knocking out supply of fresh consuming water to tens of hundreds of residents.

President Joe Biden rapidly adopted by issuing an emergency declaration, entitling the state to assist and cash from the Federal Emergency Administration Company. Since then, the Military Corps of Engineers’ Vicksburg District has begun performing an evaluation of pumps on the O.B. Curtis water remedy plant, the ability on the heart of the disaster.

Town’s water system has for years been the goal of EPA enforcement, with the company issuing emergency orders and notices of noncompliance and flagging upkeep points, insufficient staffing, inoperable gear, and poor monitoring for lead and different contaminants (Greenwire, Sept. 7). Whereas the town of Jackson operates the plant, EPA is concerned as a result of it oversees Mississippi’s enforcement of the Protected Ingesting Water Act.

EPA’s inspector normal is an unbiased workplace of federal auditors, program analysts and investigators that conduct inspections to forestall and expose fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and misconduct at EPA and the Chemical Security and Hazard Investigation Board.

Betsy Southerland, a retired EPA profession official, informed E&E Information that the company’s inspector normal sometimes investigates resulting from issues about EPA’s oversight, not state or native officers after they have primacy for implementing the Protected Ingesting Water Act. On this case, EPA oversees Mississippi, which has authority to implement the federal program.

“EPA could be held accountable if their oversight of the matter is discovered to be insufficient,” stated Southerland.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba stated during an interview on “Face the Nation” that all the metropolis’s residents have had water strain restored however there are nonetheless issues concerning the high quality of the water and that ongoing investigatory sampling is going down. The mayor stated it’s a “matter of days, not weeks” earlier than the boil water advisory could be lifted.

When requested about employees from EPA IG’s workplace being in Jackson and whether or not his personal actions are being investigated, Lumumba stated nobody had spoken to him and he had no particulars, however “to the extent that they’ll be chatting with metropolis workers, I’ll direct them to cooperate with any investigation.”

Lumumba declined to touch upon whether or not an ongoing probe in Jackson may result in prison indictments as occurred in Flint, Mich., one other majority-Black metropolis that suffered one of many nation’s largest lead contamination crises.

“I’m unaware of any prison exercise on behalf of people right here within the metropolis of Jackson,” he stated. “What we do need is a higher understanding of the place failures have been going down.”

No ‘ax to grind’

This isn’t the primary time a water-related emergency has landed on the IG workplace’s radar.

The EPA watchdog additionally probed the catastrophe that erupted in 2014 in Flint, Mich., which started drawing consuming water from the Flint River with out satisfactory remedy, failing to forestall lead leaching from service strains into the distribution system.

The IG issued a 2016 administration alert, calling for speedy EPA motion to ramp up employees coaching, thwart future crises, and reply when an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to human well being is recognized when state and native officers aren’t taking ample motion.

The watchdog issued yet one more report in 2018 that discovered EPA’s response to Flint’s emergency was “delayed” and the federal company had failed to make use of its administration controls to facilitate a extra knowledgeable and proactive response. The IG concluded the federal response was delayed, partly, as a result of EPA didn’t set up “clear roles and tasks, threat evaluation procedures, efficient communication and proactive oversight instruments.”

And earlier this yr, the IG present in a follow-up audit, years after the contamination was first detected, that EPA had not acted on all the suggestions specified by the 2018 report (Greenwire, Might 17).

The inspector normal can be reviewing EPA’s response in Benton Harbor, Mich., one other majority-Black metropolis on Lake Michigan the place residents for years have been plagued with ranges of lead of their faucet water greater than what the federal authorities considers acceptable.

Whereas EPA has stated it supplied steering and oversight as Michigan handled the disaster there, activists say the state and federal responses had been sluggish and that EPA wouldn’t have taken enforcement motion with out their repeated requires motion (Greenwire, June 23).

The inspector normal’s findings in Benton Harbor haven’t but been launched.

Erik Olson, a senior strategic director specializing in well being and meals for the Pure Sources Protection Council, stated it’s pretty uncommon for the IG to ship out a staff to research and conduct audits whereas an emergency is ongoing and that he hopes the IG’s presence in Jackson signifies the watchdog will grow to be extra proactive. Whereas the IG’s authority is restricted, he stated the watchdog performs a crucial position in figuring out violations and bringing them to the eye of the EPA administrator and even the Division of Justice.

The inspector normal solely formally oversees EPA however will routinely critique state and infrequently native authorities actions in the event that they fail to hold out federal regulation adequately, Olson stated. The IG may name for stronger company watchdogging of state primacy applications in gentle of the Jackson water disaster. At the moment, all states and territories have authority to implement the Protected Ingesting Water Act, apart from Wyoming and the District of Columbia.

“What’s vital is, at the very least in concept, the IG doesn’t have an ax to grind, they don’t have a rear finish to guard,” he stated. “The idea is that they’re unbiased and so they name them as they see them.”

A model of this report first ran in E&E Information’ Greenwire. Get entry to extra complete and in-depth reporting on the vitality transition, pure assets, local weather change and extra in E&E Information.

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