Last night, Rachel Maddow covered the Flint water lead poisoning story for a third time in the past month. In the segment, she lauded the Michigan press – including the ACLU’s crack investigative journalist Curt Guyette who wasn’t named explicitly – for their vigilance and doggedness in pursuing this story, something I agree with completely. For this report, Maddow brought in Flint Journal/MLive editor Bryn Mickle. Here is the video:
Mickle said something very important during his interview:
MADDOW: Even with the state saying, “The town can’t run its own affairs [and installing an Emergency Manager],” the state ends up poisoning the town. From a distance that just seems like a Shakespearean level of tragedy but it’s also infuriating and I wonder, from closer up to that situation, how does that issue sit with your readers in Flint?
MICKLE: Again, they’re angry. Flint was stripped of its democracy. Make no mistake, the people that the Flint citizens voted to put into office had no real power and for the state to turn around and try to put this back onto the mayor and city council and say that these were decisions that they made… I mean there was an Emergency Manager in place. Those people had no real power. And it’s insulting to the people of Flint, I think, to be told that your elected leaders can’t lead and then to have something like this happen. People have lost faith and understandably so.
Mr. Mickle is 100% correct about this. There was one particular decision made by Emergency Manager Darnell Earley in 2014 that sealed Flint’s fate. After first telling Flint that they would no longer supply water to them after a certain date, a date well before a pipeline being built to bring Lake Huron water to Flint would be completed (which likely won’t happen until June at the earliest), the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department came back to Earley and told him Flint could continue to buy water from them, water also coming from Lake Huron. However, Earley told them thanks-but-no-thanks and moved forward with his plans to use Flint River water in the interim. It was the corrosive chemistry of the Flint River water that eroded the protective layer of minerals coating lead pipes in many Flint homes that has lead to the current catastrophe.
So, yes, this is entirely on Gov. Snyder’s shoulders.
Genesee County officials declared a public health emergency on October 1st of last year. This week, they declared a state of emergency and it is now up to Gov. Snyder to decide whether or not to grant their request and the request of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to spend more than $50 million to replace lead pipes in Flint homes and to make other necessary infrastructure upgrades.
It took over three months for Gov. Snyder to apologize to Flint residents for poisoning their water. Hopefully he will make this decision – and the CORRECT decision – much faster than that.
The sad part about all of this is that this crisis is going to be VERY expensive to resolve and that money will come from the state budget at the expense of other important things. And you can be very sure that corporations in Michigan will not be asked to help shoulder this burden. That burden will be carried by the citizens of the state because when it comes to fixing Michigan’s problems, we are decidedly NOT “all in this together”.
One more thing: Part of the reason that the crisis in Flint went on so long before action was taken is that reports filed by the Department of Environmental Quality were altered to make it look like everything was fine:
Mike Glasgow is with the city of Flint. He’s the guy in charge of collecting the water samples.
Glasgow remembers including samples taken at one home that showed extremely high lead levels. A sample of Lee Anne Walters’ home turned up a result of 104 parts per billion – almost seven times the federally mandated limit.
“They instructed me to take it off the report,” says Glasgow. “I know she had taken some other samples and they had all the results too. I don’t know that I can give you a good enough answer to tell you why they decided to remove it from the report.”
Democratic state representative Phil Phelps from Flushing has introduced legislation to make manipulating data in this way a felony punishable by five years in prison:
Michigan Rep. Phil Phelps doesn’t know whether officials at state agencies manipulated data to mask lead levels in Flint water, but he does know that there’s no law stopping somebody from doing so.
“As far as we were able to determine, not directly,” said the Democrat from Flushing. “There’s no laws on the books that say you can’t manipulate data.”
When the legislature comes back on Jan. 13 he plans to introduce a bill that would make intentionally manipulating or falsifying information in state reports a five-year felony and fine of up to $5,000.
Phelps said he wasn’t saying for sure that anybody did something wrong in relation to the Flint water crisis, but if somebody did in the future it would be a crime under this bill. His understanding is that every other law on the books right now a prosecutor would have to “stretch” to apply to such an instance.
“I’m not a judge, I’m not a prosecutor. I just want to make sure that this is another tool that we have in the future,” Phelps said.
It’s sad that this is even needed.
UPDATE: The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department, is now investigating the Flint water poisoning crisis:
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is investigating the contamination of Flint’s drinking water supply, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Gina Balaya of the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not say whether the investigation is a criminal or civiI matter.
“We’re just confirming that we’re looking into it,” Balaya told the Free Press.
She said the U.S. Attorney’s Office doesn’t normally confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, but it made an exception in this case because of the number of inquiries it was receiving from Flint residents. She would not place a time line on the investigation.
“In an effort to address the concerns of Flint residents, the United States Attorney’s Office for the eastern district of Michigan is working closely with the EPA in the investigation of the contamination of the city of Flint’s water supply,” she said.