Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder began his opening statement before the House Government Oversight Committee hearing on the Flint water crisis by saying, “I am not going to point fingers.” In the same statement and in comments made during questioning, he then blamed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the failure to prevent the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water with the powerful, tasteless, odorless, invisible neurotoxin lead. He explicitly called out “bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical compliance over common sense”. Presumably this includes the man he himself appointed to head he DEQ, Dan Wyant, a man with no previous experience in dealing with water regulation or regulations:
Prior to directing the MDA [Michigan Department of Agriculture], Director Wyant provided policy expertise for the Senate Majority Office and was associate director of Governor John Engler’s Office of Legislative Affairs. He began his career in the private sector, as a marketing manager for the Ralston Purina Co. and then as an export trade consultant for Lowe’s International.
Director Wyant holds a bachelor’s degree in food systems management from Michigan State University (MSU) and a master’s in business administration from American University in Washington, D.C.
Gov. Snyder also stated plainly that “this was a failure of government at all levels”. The truth, of course, is that this wasn’t a failure of “government”. It was, in fact, a failure of Gov. Snyder, members of his administration, and, most importantly, the policies of Emergency Management and “running government like a business”. Gov. Snyder’s blaming of “government” is the continuance of a Republican policy of running government poorly and then blaming the broad category of “government” rather than the specific policies and individuals who are responsible for running that government. The fact is, properly run, government is not the problem, it is the watchdog to prevent problems. There is a direct and fatal line between Gov. Snyder’s policies of Emergency Management and “running government like a business”. In fact, during questioning, Gov. Snyder admitted this. When asked if the situation in Flint was a direct result of the failure of Emergency Management, Gov. Snyder replied, “In this particular case, with respect to the water issue, that would be a fair conclusion.”
Another aspect of the hearings was a continuation of Republicans blaming the EPA for this catastrophe. It was bewildering to watch the very same Congressional Republicans who have worked to undermine the EPA and who fight what they see as EPA over-regulation to now malign that agency for under-regulating in the case of Flint. During the hearing, Democratic Rep. William Clay from Missouri was to the point:
You know, I have to hand it to my Republican colleagues. They are actually making their argument with a straight face. And, you know, just to be clear, Republicans here today are claiming that the EPA – the Obama EPA – should have been more aggressive in stepping in and seizing control and overruling the Republican-controlled state of Michigan. They are just outraged that the EPA wasn’t more assertive with Michigan and didn’t immediately go public with their complaints about the state’s failure to follow the law. Ms. McCarthy, the irony is almost overwhelming, isn’t it? Republicans have been absolutely slamming the EPA for overreaching at every possible turn. Now they criticize the EPA for not doing more when Gov. Snyder fell down on the job.
Let’s go through some of these ridiculous government statements.
Donald Trump has called for entirely eliminating the EPA and handing power over to the states. He said this, and I quote, “Environmental protection, we waste all of this money. We’re going to bring this back to the states. […]
Another Republican candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, agrees with Mr. Trump. He said this, and I quote, “I think states should press back using every tool they have available. […]
Marco Rubio, now a former Republican candidate, has vowed to scale back the Clean Water Act. He said this: “Regulations in this country are out of control, especially the ‘Employment Prevention Agency’, the EPA.” […]
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said this: “Let’s shut down the federal EPA and focus on those issues where, here in the state, the state knows best how to protect resources.” […]
Obviously the state of Michigan did not know best in this case. They poisoned thousands of their own people. […]
House Republicans, including some in this room, have voted at every turn to gut the EPA’s authority to enforce the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the list goes on.
Gov. Snyder calls the federal Lead and Copper Rule “dumb and dangerous”. Yet Michigan is unique in that its failure to implement that Rule poisoned thousands of its citizens. If the Rule was so “dumb and dangerous”, we’d expect it NOT to be unique. It would, in fact, be common. While it’s true that there are lead issues in cities across the country, few if any are the direct result of failing to properly implement legally required corrosion control like what happened in Flint. The truth is that, under the watch of Dan Wyant, DEQ failed to follow the Lead and Copper Rule and actually altered reports in order to avoid taking action. This is an indisputable fact.
Blaming the EPA is like blaming the farmhand who failed to catch an escaped horse instead of the farmhand who left the barn door open. Both made mistakes but one of them CAUSED the mistake.
In the case of Flint, the Snyder administration left the barn door open and Republicans now want to shift the focus to blaming others for not catching the horse.