The headlines tell the tale:
The Detroit News: Task force: EM decisions led to Flint crisis
Detroit Free Press: Task force slams Flint crisis, demands review of emergency manager law
The Wall Street Journal: Michigan Officials Responsible for Flint Water Crisis, Panel Finds
The Guardian: Flint water crisis was ‘environmental injustice’, governor’s taskforce finds
The Washington Post: Scathing independent report blames state officials for Flint water crisis
Michigan Radio: Task force: Flint water crisis was “environmental injustice,” and the state is to blame
The New York Times: Flint Water Crisis Inquiry Finds State Ignored Warning Signs
MLive: Flint water task force places blame for crisis with the state
For anyone who has followed this story here at Eclectablog, these findings from Gov. Snyder’s appointed task force looking into the Emergency Manager law are no surprise at all. All along we’ve highlighted the culpability of Gov. Snyder’s policies and the actions of his administration. We’ve talked about how it has disparately impacted a majority African American community that has struggled since its manufacturing base fled for other countries. We’ve spelled out how the decisions that were made by Gov. Snyder’s appointed overseers led directly to the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water with the powerful, odorless, tasteless, invisible neurotoxin lead. Time and time again, since it was first passed into law in 2011, we’ve decried Michigan’s anti-democracy Emergency Manager law and were the first to report how it lead to the disenfranchisement of over half of the African Americans in Michigan.
Combine all of these elements together and the almost predictable result is something like the Flint water crisis. Here’s the devastating executive summary of the task force’s report:
The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) failed in its fundamental responsibility to effectively enforce drinking water regulations. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) failed to adequately and promptly act to protect public health. Both agencies, but principally the MDEQ, stubbornly worked to discredit and dismiss others’ attempts to bring the issues of unsafe water, lead contamination, and increased cases of Legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease) to light. With the City of Flint under emergency management, the Flint Water Department rushed to unprepared into full-time operation of the Flint Water Treatment Plant, drawing wter from a highly corrosive source without the use of corrosion control. Though MDEQ was delegated primacy (authority to enforce federal law), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delayed enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), thereby prolonging the calamity. Neither the Governor nor the Governor’s office took steps to reverse poor decisions by MDEQ and the state-appointed emergency managers until October 2015, in spite of mounting problems and suggestions to do so by senior staff members in the Governor’s office, in part because of continued reassurances from MDEQ that the water was safe. The significant consequences of these failures for Flint will be long-lasting. They have deeply affected Flint’s public health, its economic future, and residents’ trust in government.
The Flint water crisis occurred when state-appointed emergency mangers replaced local representative decision-making in Flint, removing the checks and balances and public accountability that come with public decision-making. Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to DWSD once water quality problems were encountered. Given the demographics of Flint, the implications for environmental injustice cannot be ignored or dismissed.
The Flint water crisis is also a story, however, of something that DID work: the critical role played by engaged Flint citizens, by individuals both inside and outside the government who had the expertise and willingness to question and challenge government leadership, and by members of a free press who used the tools that enable investigative journalism. Without their courage and persistence, this crisis likely never would have been brought to light and mitigation efforts never begun.
Environmental injustice. The failure of the Snyder administration’s key departments for protecting its citizens and the environment. Emergency management as an impediment to government accountability and transparency. The discrediting and dismissing of citizen concerns and the whistle blowers who shined a sterilizing light on the situation, bringing it to our collective attention. None of this is new but, now, for the first time, we have an independent body stating it in the plainest terms possible.
Gov. Snyder was dismissive of the task force report:
“They have 44 recommendations in the report … I can tell you of the recommendations, there are 25 that we’re already working on, there are nine we’re still checking on and there are 10 that are being referred to other organizations ” Snyder said at a news conference in Flint after the report’s release. Work triggered by those recommendations, he said, will go on for an “extended period of time and for many years. … This is a problem I made a commitment to fix.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, however, says the governor and his administration continue to operate in a way that shows he “still doesn’t seem to understand that the citizens of Flint no longer trust him or his administration.” Even the release of this report and his recent release of a 75-point plan to resolve the crisis and prevent it from happening again were done without consultation with her and her administration:
“While this report is welcomed, without funding from the Michigan Legislature and Congress, these are only recommendations and promises that do absolutely nothing to get Flint on the road to recovery,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a news release. “Our residents were poisoned by drinking lead-laced water for 18 months and still cannot use the water coming out of their taps for drinking, cooking or just brushing their teeth.
She added that the city’s nearly 100,000 residents “are paying a high price for mistakes that were made. Yet there has been absolutely no sense of urgency by state and federal elected officials to get Flint the funding it needs.”
The mayor noted that two months have gone by since Snyder said in his State of the State address that he would do everything he could to help Flint. State lawmakers have yet to approve $127 million in supplemental spending the governor asked to aid Flint.
The report cites communications breakdowns between state and local officials and Weaver said some of those tensions continue today.
“The continued failure to communicate with the elected officials here in Flint is simply astonishing,” said Weaver, who said she was given no advance warning about the task force’s findings or a timeline for its release to the public. “I have avoided placing blame for the Flint water crisis, trying to focus the community’s and my attention on moving forward. That can happen only if the state works cooperatively with local officials. But Gov. Snyder continues to ignore me, my administration, and the residents of Flint.”
With Republicans in charge of every level of Michigan government, there appears to be little chance that the plethora of systemic problems highlighted in this report will be dealt with in a satisfying way. We are still a state that is controlled by people who believe in their hearts – despite all evidence to the contrary – that government should be “run like a business” and that over-regulation is one of our country’s biggest problems. Consider this: nearly every Republican running for president right now wants to abolish the EPA. Dana Milbank spelled it out in an op-ed last week at The Washington Post titled “The poisonous conservative thinking that caused the Flint crisis”:
It’s a vicious cycle: Washington devolves power to the states. When states screw up, conservatives blame the federal government, worsening the public’s already shaky faith. Having tied the hands of the feds — in this case, the EPA — they use the failure as justification to restrict federal power further, thus giving more control to the states, which caused the problem in the first place.
This is no abstract problem. The leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination promises to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency — or the “Department of Environmental Protection,” as Donald Trump calls it — “in almost every form” and to “bring that back to the states.”
We don’t have to wonder what that would look like. It would look like Flint.
If you are in Michigan and you’re reading this, remember this one thing: In November of this year, every single Republican in our state House is up for reelection. THEY are the ones who created this situation with their passage – and then RE-passage once Michigan voters overturned it – of Michigan’s odious and anti-democracy Emergency Manager law. THEY are the ones who continue to hamstring local municipalities by cutting revenue sharing and forcing them into taking catastrophic austerity measures. THEY are the ones who continue the policy of “running government like a business”, a policy that has proven to be a failure over and over and over again. Voters in Michigan have an opportunity this year to reject these people and their harmful policies and visions for our state. We get the government we deserve and we must now step up to that challenge in 2016.