It’s been a busy week of news regarding the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water by the Snyder administration, so much that it’s simply not possible to post separately about each one. That’s where the news round-ups come. So here is a compilation of the latest news coming out of Flint and Lansing.
Amid complaints of water, Snyder admin quietly trucked in clean water for its employees
The biggest news of the week is the revelation that, starting January 7th of 2015, state government offices began providing bottled water to its employees working in state buildings in Flint so that they wouldn’t have to drink tap water. Progress Michigan released documents yesterday showing that includes a notice sent to Department of Technology, Management & Budget (DTMB) employees:
The City of Flint recently sent out the attached notice regarding violations to the drinking water standards. While the City of Flint states that corrective actions are not necessary, DTMB  is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink. The coolers will arrive today and will be provided as long as the public water does not meet treatment requirements.
This move came during a time when Flint residents were complaining loudly to anyone who would listen that their water was undrinkable and unusable. While the state did nothing to address the residents’ complaints, they quietly and without fanfare made sure their own employees were taken care of.
Lonnie Scott, Executive Director of Progress Michigan, released the following statement:
It appears the state wasn’t as slow as we first thought in responding the Flint Water Crisis. Sadly, the only response was to protect the Snyder administration from future liability and not to protect the children of Flint from lead poisoning. While residents were being told to relax and not worry about the water, the Snyder administration was taking steps to limit exposure in its own building.
Another day and another example of the Snyder administration’s lackluster response to this crisis. Worse yet, this shows that the response was not only late and so far ineffective, but it was also unequal. Governor Snyder needs to explain to the people of Flint why his administration trucked water into a state building while allowing residents to drink unsafe water.
Gov. Snyder extends Flint state of emergency declaration until April 14
In order to keep the flow of funds coming into Flint to deal with their human-made disaster, Gov. Rick Snyder has extended the emergency declaration in Flint until April 14th:
The emergency response in the city of Flint has been critical to ensure every Flint family has access to bottled water, filters, and testing kits,” Snyder said in a news release. “While these efforts have a big impact in the short term, there is still much more work to be done.
“Extending this emergency will help us continue these efforts while working on long-term solutions to help Flint recover from this tragedy.”
Both the House and Senate approved the extension Thursday.
This is sure to be the first of many such extensions given that literally nothing has been done to replace the lead water lines and plumbing components that are leaching lead into residents’ tap water.
Replacing Flint’s water lines not on Gov. Snyder’s agenda for now
Gov. Snyder laid out his plans for resolving the Flint water crisis: saying the immediate plan is to restore the protective coating on the insides of residents’ water lines:
Under mounting pressure to rip out and replace lead pipes that connect an estimated 15,000 or more customers to main water lines, Gov. Rick Snyder said at a news conference Wednesday that the state first intends to make the existing pipes safe by rebuilding a protective coating between the lead and the water. […]
“It’s a lot of work to take out pipes, to redo all the infrastructure,” Snyder said.
It takes even longer when you haven’t even started three months after first admitting you have a problem and over six months since the problems were made public by Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards and his team.
Only $17 million of the $80 million in federal funds coming to Michigan can be used in Flint
Last week, President Obama announced that the federal government was sending $80 million to Michigan, largely to help deal with the catastrophe in Flint. “We’re going to have that funding available to you by the end of next week, and that includes $80 million for the state of Michigan,” Obama told a gathering of mayors at the White House.
However, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says the amount for Flint is far less, just $17 million of the $80 million.
“[T]here was a pretty big misunderstanding that the federal government was sending $80 million,” Calley said in an interview that aired on National Public Radio Thursday morning. “And when we really dug into that, what we found is that it wasn’t really a grant for that, but what it is is the ability for them to borrow money. And from what we can tell, it looks like $17 million is about as much as we would be allowed to send to Flint.”
State officials are now talking to federal agencies to see if Michigan can get the rules of the program changed to provide additional aid to Flint. Federal officials did not immediately respond to a message for comment about Calley’s remarks.
So, it’s not really the windfall that it first seemed and, when it’s all over, Flint will need to pay it all back.
State legislature approves $28 million for Flint’s water crisis
The Michigan House and Senate both unanimously approved a $28 million supplemental spending bill to support the residents of Flint and sent it to Gov. Rick Snyder to be signed into law. Based on reporting from The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, here’s where the money is going:
- $2 million for early on health assessments for children ages 0-3. The funding will go to the Genesee County Intermediate School District for testing, service coordinators and psychologists
- $675,000 for the Genesee ISD to hire nine nurses, boost parental communications, fund wraparound service coordination and provide students with more fresh fruit and vegetables, which can mitigate the effect of irreversible lead damage.
- Zero dollars to replace underground lead services lines damaged by the corrosive Flint River Water
- $1.4 million to replace plumbing fixtures in schools, child care centers, foster care and nursing homes
- $500,000 for outside experts to conduct an “infrastructure integrity study”
- $4.6 million for the state health department to continue purchasing bottled water, filters and replacement cartridges for Flint residents who still cannot drink their own tap water, less than the $8 million approved by the House
- Close to $1 million for the state health department to temporarily expand the Women, Infants and Children special food assistance program by raising the age cap to cover Flint children through age 10, instead of 5
- $3 million would go to the Department of Environmental Quality to help Flint’s water fund stay solvent despite outstanding bills from residents who are not paying for water they cannot drink
- $2 million for work being done by the Michigan National Guard
- $1.5 million for field operations costs for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
Still nothing being done to replace lead water lines and lead-containing plumbing components, however.
UPDATE: Gov. Snyder signed the legislation this afternoon at a gathering of the Michigan Press Association in Grand Rapids. No point in wasting a good public relations opportunity with lots of reporters around, I suppose.
Michigan lawmakers propose $400 million in assistance to Flint
U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee are planning to introduce legislation that would send $400 million in federal dollars to Flint to begin replacing vital infrastructure. Additionally, the proposal would fund a new “$200 million Center of Excellence on Lead Exposure to research the immediate and long-term needs of children and adults exposed to lead and communicate with the community”, according to Sen. Stabenow.
However much money is approved, the state of Michigan would have to match it:
Democratic U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow plan to offer an amendment to a bipartisan energy policy bill with the goal of jump-starting the process of repairing or replacing lead services lines contributing to the contamination of drinking water in Flint.
The amendment would provide up to $400 million in federal emergency funding to the Environmental Protection Agency to help fix Flint’s water-supply infrastructure, hire new personnel and cover the cost of technical assistance provided by the EPA or its contractors. But the plan may face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, where GOP members are pressured by conservative constituents to rein in the growing national debt.
The emergency money, provided through the Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund program, would have to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the State of Michigan — whether it’s $50 million or $400 million, the lawmakers said.
The proposal is facing a headwind, though, with Republicans like Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas balking at being part of the national response to Flint’s crisis:
“While we all have sympathy for what’s happened in Flint,” responsibility primarily lies with state and local governments in Michigan,” he said.
“Given that we have $19 trillion in debt, I think it’s fair to ask, do we want to have the federal government replacing all the infrastructure put in place by cities and states all across the country?” Cornyn said at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
The only surprise here is that he didn’t suggest that a tax cut was the solution to the problem.
Effort to recall Governor Snyder fails
The task of recalling Gov. Snyder is a Herculean one, thanks to legislation passed by the Republican-led state legislature in 2012 that requires all petition signatures – nearly 800,000 plus extras for insurance – to be gathered in just 60 days and toughened petition language requirements. That didn’t stop Angelo Scott Brown of Detroit and Quincy Murphy of Flint from trying anyway. Scott submitted seven different sets of petition language to the State Board of Canvassers and Quincy submitted one. Yesterday, the Board of Canvassers shot down all eight:
Citizens outraged over the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water continue to submit petitions to recall Gov. Rick Snyder, but so far, none has cracked the code of a toughened 2012 state law that requires every stated reason for a proposed recall to be clear and factual.
On Thursday, during a meeting at the Lansing Center, the Board of State Canvassers rejected two efforts to start recall petitions against Snyder.
Somewhere in the back halls of the state legislature, Republicans are high-fiving each other at the success of their 2012 anti-recall law.
Gov. Snyder’s approval ratings are tanking. Big time.
A new EPIC-MRA poll shows that Michiganders are quickly souring on his “leadership” of our state. 58% gave him a negative job-approval rating and 69% think he’s doing a terrible job managing the crisis in Flint (including 49% of Republicans) with only 21% giving him a positive grade. However, only 29% think he should resign.
Given that tea partier Brian Calley would become governor if Snyder resigns, I’m inclined to agree that he should stay in office and clean up the mess his administration has created.
His tanking approval numbers are probably why Gov. Snyder got got heckled out of an Ann Arbor restaurant this week. It’s probably why there are also “Wanted” posters popping up around his $2 million condo on Main Street in Ann Arbor.
Congressional Committee to hold hearings on the Flint water crisis, Gov. Snyder won’t be invited
The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water next Wednesday, February 3rd. However, Gov. Snyder will not be invited.
A U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that the panel will hold Congress’ first hearing on the Flint water crisis next Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Gov. Rick Snyder will not be among those invited to testify, however, said the spokesperson, who did not want to be named because public notice of the hearing hadn’t yet been sent out.
The office of U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence put out a statement Wednesday afternoon saying she was “outraged” by Snyder not being invited to testify before the committee, saying he played a “central role” in the crisis.
“I am deeply disappointed at the majority’s lack of commitment to a thorough and meaningful hearing,” said Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat who requested the hearing. “A sincere search for truth and justice requires a full review by the entire committee of the decisions and policies of all those involved.”
In a related story, House Rep. Gretchen Driskell, the Democratic candidate in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, is asking why current MI-07 Congressman, Tim Walberg, a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, isn’t demanding that Gov. Snyder give testimony. “I am disgusted that Congressman Walberg is allowing Gov. Snyder to sit at home while his very own Committee supposedly ‘investigates’ the government failures that led to the ongoing crisis in Flint,” Driskell said. “Not only did the poisoning of children happen on Congressman Walberg’s watch, but he is now refusing to hold responsible the very politicians directly involved.
“Right after graduating college, I drove a cab in the evenings to pay bills while starting out fresh in accounting. I think the roads in Washington are clear by now; I would gladly drive Governor Snyder to the Capitol if he doesn’t know the way.”
Flint and Detroit activist to testify before the United Nations
Beulah Walker, the chief coordinator of the nonprofit Detroit Water Brigade, will give testimony before a United Nations panel next week on Tuesday, February 2nd:
Water accessibility issues in Michigan are again attracting the attention of the United Nations, which next week will hear testimony about shutoffs in Detroit and the lead contamination of Flint drinking water.
A Detroit-based activist is expected to address a forum of the UN Commission for Social Development’s annual meeting in New York. The international group has 17 global goals for the next 15 years, including access to water.
“All eyes are on Detroit and Flint now: We live in a developed country, developed cities, but we’re living in Third World conditions,” said Beulah Walker, chief coordinator of the Detroit Water Brigade, a nonprofit that delivers bottled water to city residents.
She is scheduled to speak Feb. 2. Another Detroit-based activist, Justin Wedes of Occupy Wall Street, also is expected to attend the event that features numerous topics and dozens of worldwide activists.
Wedes said activists also are seeking an audience with the U.S. Mission to the UN.