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Press Release

Justice Department, EPA and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Reach Agreement with City of Jackson on Proposal to Address Sewer System Issues

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
Like the November 2022 Agreement to Address Drinking Water, the Proposal Would Appoint an Interim Third-Party Manager to Oversee the Sewer System

The Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the City of Jackson, Mississippi agreed to a proposed stipulated order, lodged today in federal district court, to expedite needed sewer system repairs and address spills of raw and undertreated sewage into homes, businesses, streets, yards and waterways. Under the terms of the agreement, the federal court would appoint Ted Henifin as interim third-party manager of the city’s sewer system. Henifin, who has been serving as interim third-party manager for the city’s drinking water system since November 2022, would manage, operate and maintain the city’s sewer system.

The proposal is an interim measure until the parties negotiate modifications to a judicially enforceable consent decree to achieve the sewer system’s long-term compliance with federal and state regulations. The proposed stipulated order is subject to a public comment period through Aug. 31, during which public meetings will be held in the City of Jackson.

“Under today’s agreement, expedited measures will be taken to address the City of Jackson’s deteriorating sewer infrastructure and inadequate operation and maintenance, which have caused residents and businesses to endure sewage discharges that threaten public health and the environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This action shows the continuing commitment of the Justice Department to seek justice, health and safety for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi, and to prioritize enforcement in the communities most burdened by environmental harm.”

“In November of last year, the Justice Department filed a proposal to appoint a third-party manager to oversee and implement improvements to Jackson’s drinking water system,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today, we continue to protect the health and safety of Jackson residents by proposing the oversight and programs needed to restore Jackson’s sewer systems.”

“This agreement is an appropriate next step in our enforcement efforts to ensure that the City of Jackson lives up to its responsibility, pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and Mississippi law, to address and correct issues with its sewer system,” said Executive Director Chris Wells of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

The agreement acknowledges that the city failed to achieve significant progress under a 2013 settlement among the parties that was entered by the federal court as a consent decree, and that the sewer system has further deteriorated over the last 10 years, resulting in violations of the settlement, the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the Mississippi Air and Water Pollution Control Law (MAWPCL), and the city’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits associated with the sewer system.

The agreement requires implementation of certain programs and capital projects to improve the sewer system’s condition, operations, and maintenance that are anticipated to bring near-term relief to the city’s residents and businesses.

The interim third-party manager would have the authority to, among other things:

  • Operate and maintain the city’s sewer system in compliance with the CWA, MAWPCL and NPDES permits;
  • Implement capital improvements to the city’s sewer system. This includes a set of priority projects to investigate and repair certain areas of the sewer system (including 215 areas previously identified by the city as emergency sewer failure locations), and certain repair work associated with the Savanna and Trahon wastewater treatment plants; and
  • Implement or continue implementing programs to post signage about sewer overflows where there is a reasonable expectation of public exposure; keep fats, oils, and grease out of the sewer system; and clean and inspect lines on a recurring schedule.

Under the proposal, the Justice Department, EPA, MDEQ and the City of Jackson will resume negotiations within three years to modify the 2013 settlement to achieve long-term compliance with the CWA, MAWPCL and NPDES permits.

A copy of the proposed stipulated order and instructions for submitting public comments is available at www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees. All comments must be electronically submitted or postmarked by Aug. 31.

Public meetings to receive comments are planned at the Mississippi e-Center, 1230 Raymond Road, Jackson, Mississippi on Aug. 21, 6:00 – 8:00 pm. Additional meetings are being planned and will be announced separately. For information and details on the public meetings, please visit www.epa.gov/ms/jackson-ms-sewer-system.

The case is being litigated by the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Enforcement Section, in conjunction with EPA and MDEQ.

Members of the public can help protect our environment by identifying and reporting environmental violations. Learn more here.

Updated July 26, 2023

Topics
Environmental Justice
Environment
Press Release Number: 23-815