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Protecting our part of the Earth today...

Protecting our part of the Earth today and every day

By: Chris Wells - April 18, 2023
Chris Wells

Chris Wells

MDEQ is safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of Mississippians by protecting the state’s air, land, and water.

On this nationally designated Earth Day (April 22), I would like to encourage you to stop for a minute and take a deep breath.  It is easy sometimes for us to take for granted the healthy air quality we have here in Mississippi.  We are long removed from memory of events like the one in Donora, Pennsylvania 75 years ago this October.  Pollution from manufacturing operations became trapped by weather conditions and in just three days 20 people suffocated, unable to breathe because of the polluted air, while nearly half of the city’s population suffered from respiratory problems. 

That 1948 smog event became a driving force for environmental awareness and concern.  Environmental efforts in Mississippi were strengthened in 1966 when the Mississippi legislature passed the Air and Water Pollution Control Act, creating the Mississippi Air and Water Pollution Control Commission.  In 1989, the name was officially changed to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.  

Today’s MDEQ employs around 400 scientists, engineers, geologists, accountants, lawyers, and other highly trained professionals who are passionate about Mississippi, its environment, and its future.  Like most people who work here, public service-combined with the opportunity to do my part to protect human health and the environment-is what attracted me to MDEQ and what makes me want to go to work every day.  MDEQ is the environmental regulatory agency for the state, and it is our team’s work which helps prevent us from ever having to experience an event like the one in Donora. But we are so much more than regulators.  

We’ve showcased our strengths as emergency responders in numerous natural and manmade disasters.  We are currently on the ground in Rolling Fork doing work much like we did during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  During Katrina, we were on the Mississippi Gulf Coast before landfall.  Our database helped target sites where dangerous waste could exist, allowing close monitoring to prevent further disaster.  MDEQ’S Office of Geology worked with MEMA to prepare maps of affected areas for rescue and recovery efforts.  We provided engineering expertise to bring wastewater treatment facilities back into action and issued an emergency timber general permit to prevent fallen timber from going to waste.  MDEQ helped clear 50 million cubic yards of debris from all 82 Mississippi counties in just one year, while restoring vital services throughout the state.  

Our Office of Restoration oversees numerous projects on the coast in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  These projects include the construction of living shorelines; the restoration of oyster reefs and marsh habitat; stewardship of birds, sea turtles and marine mammals; infrastructure projects and so much more.  Our projects are currently developing useful science and data, putting us on the cutting edge of restoration.  This program has, and will continue to have, many positive impacts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, its people, its ecology, and its economy. 

We are the guardian of all of Mississippi’s valuable water resources and work daily on programs and initiatives addressing water quality and quantity.  We have teams overseeing brownfield assessment and cleanup grants to help prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse contaminated land. Additionally, we educate and are a source of mounds of useful information from digital mapping to general environmental data to compliance assistance for small businesses.

You don’t have to look far to see the results of our work in your everyday life.  When you encounter a rare species in the wild, know that MDEQ collaborates with the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to protect wildlife, especially endangered species.  When you hear a flock of geese overhead, know that MDEQ works with state and federal agencies to preserve Mississippi’s wetlands.  When you read about an industrial development in the state, rest assured that MDEQ helped get them up and running in accordance with environmental regulations.  Even when you drive your car, remember it was a state geologist’s discovery that led to Mississippi’s first oil production back in 1939.  

When you hear “M.D.E.Q.,” hear “Mississippi” loud and clear and breathe easier knowing that we live here, work here, recreate here – just like you. We don’t just consider that we are working for current Mississippians. We know that the work we do today impacts future Mississippians as well.   Safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of present – and future generations – of Mississippians by protecting our state’s air, land, and water. It’s not just a job to us, it’s a mission – today and every day! 

About the Author(s)
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Chris Wells

Chris Wells was appointed Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in October of 2020. He began his career with the agency in November 2007 as an attorney. He has also served MDEQ as Chief of Staff and Acting Director of the Office of Restoration. Director Wells has a Chemical Engineering degree from Mississippi State University and is a registered professional engineer. He graduated from Mississippi College School of Law in 1999.