Finger-Pointing and Fallout Over Flint Water Crisis Continues

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Rick Snyder
Michigan governor Rick Snyder delivers his State of the State address on January 19, 2016.Photo: Al Goldis/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

A day after Michigan governor Rick Snyder released his emails regarding the lead-up to his government’s delayed response to the Flint water crisis, the Detroit Free Press reported that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform would hold a hearing on the issue, and that it planned on inviting the state executive to testify. The Free Press says the hearing is scheduled for February 3; it’s not clear yet whether Snyder will agree to go.

The nearly 300 pages of emails released on Wednesday showed that Snyder’s office debated who was at fault for the fact that children in Flint were suffering from lead poisoning because of the water coming from the Flint River, which was leaching lead from the old pipes transporting it into residents’ homes, where it came out smelly and strangely colored.

In September, Snyder’s chief of staff wrote, “Of course, some of the Flint people respond by looking for someone to blame instead of working to reduce anxiety. We can’t tolerate increased lead levels in any event, but it’s really the city’s water system that needs to deal with it.” Another email accused local officials of just playing politics and trying to blame the crisis on the state government. An earlier email sent to Snyder last February said, “Again, discoloration is not an indicator of water quality or water safety, but we recognize that nobody likes it.”

Forty percent of Flint’s majority-black population of 100,000 is living in poverty.

Emails that were not sent to or from Snyder were not included in the release, so it’s unclear how anyone talked about the crisis when the governor wasn’t involved. In a recent national study of state transparency laws, Michigan was ranked last. Snyder’s office happens to be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Snyder apologized for the crisis, which now has inspired comment and reaction from officials at the highest level of political prominence. “To you, the people of Flint, I say tonight as I have before, I am sorry and I will fix it,” he said. Snyder added that he planned on asking for $28 million to help people in Flint recover from the crisis — and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The House quickly approved the request. Several Flint officials immediately noted that that amount of money wouldn’t be enough. “These kids are going to need help for a long time,” Representative Dan Kildee told Reuters

Damage from lead poisoning is irreversible. It can lead to lower IQs in children and cause other learning problems. Residents are still being warned not to drink the water, and the National Guard is still handing out water bottles and filters — and celebrities are still sending in safe water, too. Snyder told CBS News on Wednesday, “We don’t want people to believe it’s safe. Extensive testing is going on, has been going on for some time. And we are seeing improvements in the water supply. But we don’t want people to believe it’s appropriate to drink at this point in time.”

Flint mayor Karen Weaver met with Obama at the White House earlier this week. She was in town for the Conference of Mayors and told her fellow leaders“This is something that nobody should have to deal with. Everybody should have clean water. It’s ironic when you live in the ‘Great Lake State’ and you don’t have access to clean water.” 

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U.S. president Barack Obama speaks at the United Auto Workers-General Motors Center for Human Resources on January 20. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

Flint started taking water from the river back in 2014, when an emergency manager — appointed by Snyder to help the struggling city — decided it would be a cheap alternative to buying water from Detroit while a pipeline to Lake Huron was being built. CityLab asked Weaver if there was any alternative to taking water from the Flint River earlier this week. She replied, “I think that was the only alternative. And really we should have stayed with Detroit’s water because it would not have cost that much. When you look at what happened as a result, this has cost us much more, as far as money and physical harm to people.” Weaver added that she hadn’t been drinking the water since it was switched over.

President Obama went to visit Michigan on Wednesday, although he didn’t visit Flint. He did bring it up while talking about the auto industry in Detroit, however. “If I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk,” he said. “And that’s why over the weekend I declared a federal emergency in Flint to send more resources on top of what we’ve already put on the ground.” He added that the crisis was “a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we, together, provide as a government.”

Meanwhile, Flint residents are still dealing with that disgusting water, forced to trudge across town every day just to get enough water to drink and fight utility bills that would have them paying for water they can’t even use. One woman told The Wall Street Journal, “We’re nothing but the walking dead in Flint. It’s pitiful.” Every resident is allowed only six bottles of water a day. CNN spoke to a senior who said she hadn’t been receiving the expected water delivery. “We’ve worked hard all our life, and we’ve paid our dues and pay our taxes. And this is what we get,” she said.

Another person told The Guardian“We are not a third world. This is America, this should not happen here. That’s why we have people from all over the city and world here, supporting Flint. Because it can happen to you, it can happen in your city.” 

Meanwhile, in the “politics is weird and creepy” department, a local militia that earlier this month was contemplating a trip out to Burns, Oregon, has been busy handing out water bottles — and trying to fire up protests like the ones filmmaker and Flint resident Michael Moore has been organizing. One militia member told the Detroit Free Press“We don’t see eye-to-eye on many things. For him to step forward and say something good … this time I agree with him.”