Flint — February 3, 2016 at 7:11 am

#FlintWaterCrisis news round-up: Former Flint Emergency Manager refuses Congressional subpoena, FBI now investigating


NOTE: to follow all of our coverage of the ongoing tragedy in Flint, click the “Flint Water Crisis” tab at the top left of each page right under our logo (or click HERE!)

Former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley refuses to be served Congressional subpoena

In an astonishing display of chutzpah, former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, who yesterday abruptly announced he is resigning as Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools at the end of the month, refused to be served subpoena papers sent to him and his attorney by the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee which is holding a hearing on the Flint water crisis today in Washington, D.C.:

Sources told the Free Press on Tuesday night that a congressional committee voted to subpoena former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley to testify on the city’s water crisis but that he has refused service.

Two congressional staff members spoke to the Free Press on condition of anonymity because the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hadn’t publicly discussed the subpoena. Earley had been called to testify regarding the Flint water crisis at Wednesday’s first congressional hearing on the issue but refused.

Earley was emergency manager in Flint when that city switched its water supply to the Flint River in 2014.

Earley’s attorney, A. Scott Bolden, confirmed to the Free Press on Tuesday night that a subpoena was issued, but he added that it was issued at 6 p.m. Tuesday and required that Earley testify at 9 a.m. Wednesday, even though Earley is not in Washington. Bolden said that timeline “borders on the nonsensical” and is “completely unenforceable.” […]

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the House Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat, said that while Earley “has a right to assert the Fifth Amendment” and not testify “but his abrupt resignation earlier today and his refusal to testify … make it even more urgent that we hear directly from the governor.

No word on whether or not Earley suggested that Rep. Cummings’ father smelt of elderberries.

UPDATE: Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz told attendees at the hearing this morning (which you can watch live HERE) that he’s sending U.S. Marshals to serve Earley with his subpoena and that he would “hunt him down” if necessary. “Participating before this committee is not optional,” Chaffetz said. It’s worth noting that refusing to comply with a Congressional subpoena can lead to a charge of contempt of Congress which, upon conviction, is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 and imprisonment for up to a year.

Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee will be testifying and a coalition of Michigan groups is sending two busloads of people down to Washington, D.C. for today’s hearing:

A group of Flint residents who want to be heard in Washington, D.C., will leave Flint tonight.

Organizers want people who are impacted by the Flint water crisis to be able to tell their stories during the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing.

“We are going to DC so our voices aren’t lost in the middle of political posturing,” the message on the signup form says. […]

The trip is sponsored by the National Action Network, Flint Democracy Defense League, Michigan Faith in Action, AFSCME SEIU, Michigan Nurses Association, Progress Michigan, National People’s Action Advancement Project, National People’s Action, Center for Popular Democracy and Michigan United.

Another bus charted by the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network also will leave from the same location.

FBI now investigating the Flint water crisis, looking for criminal actions

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, in conjunction with a host of other agencies, is now investigating the catastrophic poisoning of Flint’s drinking water by the Snyder administration, looking for evidence that federal laws were violated.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Tuesday confirmed the FBI is part of the ongoing federal investigation into the Flint water crisis.

Jill Washburn, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Detroit field office, told The Detroit News of the agency’s role in the growing probe.

“We’ve been investigating it for awhile,” Washburn said. “Our role in it is just investigating the matter to determine if there are any federal violations.” […]

The U.S. Attorney’s Office normally doesn’t disclose ongoing probes. But Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, confirmed her agency’s investigation in January while explaining the worries of Flint’s residents may have prompted the agency’s disclosure.

Balaya, in a Tuesday email to The News, added that the office is “working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA’s Office of Inspector General (an independent office within EPA that performs audits, evaluations, and investigations of EPA and its contractors to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse) and EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division (which investigates potential criminal violations of federal environmental law).

My hunch is that Darnell Earley won’t be the only Snyder administration official to be resigning in the not-so-distant future.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is calling for the complete removal of lead water lines in Flint

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is not waiting for the lackadaisical Snyder administration to get off it’s hindside to begin the critical process of getting the lead out of Flint’s water supply. Yesterday, she outlined plans for the complete removal of lead water lines in the homes of Flint residents and she’s getting help from Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero:

An aggressive plan to remove Flint’s lead-contaminated pipes from the water distribution system was announced Tuesday by city officials who said the city will first target the homes of high-risk populations, including children and pregnant women.

The plan to remove the pipes is in the early stages, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said, but it will get a major boost in help from Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who has offered technical assistance from the Lansing Board of Water and Light, which has removed more than 13,000 lead pipes in the city.

“We are here today to take a stand to get the lead out of Flint,” Weaver said. “To start, we must remove and replace lead pipes immediately, and we want to start with the high-risk homes of kids under 6 and pregnant women. …These lead pipes have got to go.” […]

Weaver said there’s no plan to relocate residents, and it’s unclear when the pipe replacements will begin. Weaver said the city is still gathering information but she noted the effort is separate from any assistance or aid the state or federal government might plan later.

“They (Lansing) have perfected a method for replacing the lead service lines that’s more than twice as fast and only half the cost,” Weaver said at a news conference. “No trench is required. The process takes four hours, instead of 10 hours, at a cost of just $2,000 to $3,000 per line.”

Sometimes when you want something done, you just have to do it yourself. Hopefully she’ll send the bill to Gov. Snyder’s office.

Peters, Stabenow, and Kildee to introduce legislation for funding to help poisoned Flint kids

On Monday, Senator Gary Peters announced that, in addition to the $400 million proposed to help mitigate the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water by the Snyder administration, he, along with Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Dan Kildee will be introducing legislation to help Flint kids who have been poisoned with lead:

Michigan members of Congress announced Monday that they would be introducing bills to expand learning programs for Flint children who have been affected by the city’s water crisis.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich) announced the legislation while touring Hurley Medical Center in Flint on Monday.

“Flint’s children were exposed to contaminated water by no fault of their own,” Peters said. “I am proud to introduce this bill to help ensure they have the resources and support necessary to lead happy and healthy lives.” […]

The bill proposed Monday is called the Children’s Head Start Intervention for Life and Development (CHILD) Act. It would allow for a one-time, non-renewable grant to help low-income children with health needs and school readiness as part of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Those efforts include child learning classes, healthy meals and developmental screenings.

Peters’ announcement did not name how much money would be allocated for those efforts. The senator said he will introduce the bill with U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich). U.S. Representative Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint, will introduce similar legislation in Congress.

With regard to the $400 million in assistance proposed in their earlier announcement, MIRS News Service has reported that several Republicans in Lansing are pushing back. Senate Republican Leader Arlan Meekhof and Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter both are dubious of the legislation because it requires a $400 million match from the state of Michigan. When asked about the federal assistance, Meekhof was reported to have said, “I’m a little suspect of those folks wanting to help. There may be a role for them, but we’ll wait and see … Normally, funds coming from the federal government, there’s lots of strings attached. We may not be willing to attach ourselves to those strings.” Cotter called the effort “premature”.

Apparently these fine leaders of our state legislature aren’t sure they want to spend that sort of money on a city full of poor black people who have been poisoned by their Party’s corporatist policies.

Gov. Snyder asks legislature for $30 million to pay for Flint residents’ (poisoned) water bills

As I’ve reported in the past, not only are Flint residents having to contend with lead in their drinking water, they also have some of the highest water rates in the entire country and the bills for that poisoned water have not stopped coming. It is, perhaps, one of the most outrageous fallouts from the entire situation. Gov. Snyder plans to ask the state legislature to free up $30 million to pay back the city for the loss of revenue now that many residents have understandably stopped paying for water they cannot use:

Gov. Rick Snyder plans to announce Wednesday he will ask the state legislature to approve a $30 million water payment relief plan for Flint residents to keep their water service on and reimburse them for water they cannot drink because of a lead-contaminated water supply, according to a document reviewed by the Detroit Free Press.

The governor’s proposal will be part of the 2016-2017 fiscal year budget he will present to lawmakers next week, and it calls for a credit the city of Flint can apply to residents’ water bills until state and federal officials certify the water is safe for consumption. The upcoming announcement was first reported by the Associated Press Tuesday night.

“Flint residents will not have to pay for water they cannot drink,” Snyder said in a draft statement reviewed by the Free Press. “My budget recommendation will include the request that the state make payments to the city’s water system for residential bills going back to April 2014 and alleviate the need for residential water shutoffs.”

It’s the least they can do. Almost literally.

The U.S. EPA and Michigan DEQ battle it out over who messed up worse

The finger-pointing battle between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ramped up this week with the two agencies pointing at each other for blame. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters, “I think it’s very clear from what you’ve seen here that the federal government is here and doing its job, it’s time that the state government get here and do its job.”

And that’s not all she said:

“Let’s be really clear about why we are here today,” McCarthy said. “We are here today because a state-appointed emergency manager made the decision that the city of Flint would stop purchasing treated water that had well served them for 50 years and instead purchase untreated — and not treat that water — and by law the state of Michigan approved that switch and did not require corrosion control. All to save money.

“Now that state decision resulted in lead leaching out of lead service pipes and plumbing, exposing kids to excess amounts of lead. That’s why we’re here.”

Oh, snap.

DEQ Director Keith Creagh had a few things of his own to say:

Gov. Rick Snyder’s hand-picked appointee to run the state Department of Environmental Quality faults the federal EPA for contributing to the public health catastrophe, saying it “did not display the sense of urgency that the situation demanded.” […]

“Between February (2015) and the end of September 2015, there were multiple e-mail exchanges and conference calls between MDEQ and EPA,” Creagh wrote in the prepared testimony made available to the Free Press on Tuesday night. “Yet when the parties were unable to come to consensus on its implementation in July 2015, the EPA failed to provide the legal opinion requested by the MDEQ until November 2015.”

While the EPA should have come down harder and quicker than they did but, ultimately, it was the failure of the DEQ to abide by federal regulations, largely because their department director Dan Wyant was completely unqualified for his job.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller wants one billion dollars for Flint

In her opening salvo in the Michigan 2018 gubernatorial race, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (who is widely predicted to run for governor in 2018) yesterday proposed [DrEvilVoice]One billion dollars[/DrEvilVoice] to replace lead water lines and plumbing in Flint:

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller on Tuesday upped the ante for Congress to help pay for replacing lead service pipes and other infrastructure in Flint, proposing an emergency $1-billion grant to be authorized through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Such a proposal faces an uncertain future but represents perhaps the boldest suggestion yet for a federal response to the water crisis unfolding in Flint, where President Barack Obama has issued an emergency declaration and high lead levels continue to be detected in some residents’ tap water.

Miller, R-Harrison Township, said in a statement accompanying the text of the proposed legislation that it’s necessary “because of an epic failure of government at every level” that has resulted in unacceptably high levels of lead in the water, and that she recognizes the fiscal issues surrounding such a proposal in Congress.

It’s pretty easy for Rep. Miller to make such an audacious request because she knows full well that her Republican colleagues will never pass it into law. So she gets the benefit of acting concerned in a big way without actually having to fund her big idea. It’s Republican policy at its finest.

Geoffrey Fieger files suit over Flint Legionnaires’ disease and associated death

Speaking of people exploiting the Flint water crisis for personal gain, notorious attorney Geoffrey Fieger has filed a $100 million lawsuit on behalf of the family of a Flint Legionnaires’ disease victim and three others who got sick from the bacterial infection. Just another lawsuit against the state of Michigan, you’re probably thinking. No, you’d be wrong. He’s suing the hospital, too, despite the fact that the link between the switch to the Flint River and the Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak has not been established:

Southfield lawyer Geoffrey Fieger filed a $100-million lawsuit today against McLaren Flint Hospital and the State of Michigan, saying they did nothing to combat an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed at least one person during the Flint water crisis.

Fieger represents four Genesee County residents who contracted the disease, including the family of Debra Kidd, who died in August, seven days after entering the emergency room with a headache, according to the suit.

Fieger told the Free Press today that the hospital had a duty to protect the patients from the deadly bacteria. […]

“A hospital won’t make money if it discloses a Legionnaires’ outbreak from contaminated water, and a Governor will stop hearing whispers that he’s being considered for higher office if he reveals a water and Legionnaires’ crisis,” Fieger said in a statement. “We know what happened here.”

This man is disgusting.