EPA: “All options are on the table” regarding potential federal takeover of Jackson’s water system

“All options are on the table” when it comes to a potential federal takeover of the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, says the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s hard to explain how and why the government is failing the city of Jackson and the people of Jackson,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told CBS News in an interview aired Tuesday on “Prime Time with John Dickerson.”

Regan has traveled to Jackson twice since the floods in late August caused a water treatment plant failure and left the capital city. without running water for several days, President Biden issued a disaster declaration and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency. The National Guard was called in to help with water distribution, schools and businesses were forced to close and residents were told take a shower with your mouth closed Because the water was not safe.

Since August, state and local officials have pointed the finger at trying and blaming for the massive infrastructure failure, which was followed by years of financial woes for the city’s water system. .

The breakdown cited by some is that a $90 million contract was signed in 2013 with international company Siemens. There were plans to upgrade the water system, but the attempt was unsuccessful. This culminated in a lawsuit and legal settlement in which Siemens denied any wrongdoing. CBS News reported On the constant echo of that failed system. Siemens gave a brief statement to CBS News saying the settlement was “settled”. [the] issue,” and “the project did not end as either party expected.”

Water service returned last month, but the city’s mayor sounded the alarm again this week, as the city drew thousands of visitors out of town for Jackson State University’s football game against Southern University, headlining ESPN’s “College Gameday.” ready to welcome. That rush, he warned, could re-stress the city’s crippled water system beyond its capacity.

“It’s a kind of water conservation notice,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told reporters. “Please watch your water consumption this weekend so that increased demand doesn’t put an unnecessary burden on our water treatment delivery.”

Last month the Justice Department sent a letter to Jackson in concert with the EPA inviting him to “join urgent negotiations concerning the city’s recent drinking water crisis.” The Justice Department further said that if the matter could not be resolved with a settlement, it was prepared to take action against the city under the Safe Drinking Water Act for allegedly endangering the welfare of its citizens.

Asked by CBS News whether a federal takeover is likely, Regan responded that the federal government will “need to see to us in the short, medium and long term to make sure that Jackson’s people are of good quality.” What needs to be done.” Drinking Water.”

Asked whether he would rule out a possible federal takeover of the Jackson Water System, Regan replied: “We’re evaluating all the options on the table.”

The mayor’s office in Jackson declined to comment.

Regan is traveling the country to visit places he believes chronic under-investment has left communities without the infrastructure they need.

“When you look at the data,” Regan said, “black and brown communities and low-income communities have been disproportionately affected by environmental threats and harm due to lack of investment. That’s what the data shows.”

“There’s a systemic problem that we need to address to make sure we never come back here,” Regan said, adding that he expects other communities — especially those with lesser populations — to have the same fate as Jackson. can face. Asked how many cities he considered at risk, Regan replied: “Dozens, if not more.”

CBS News journalists Claire Hymes and Alyssa Spady contributed to this report.

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