There is a whole lot of news to report about the ongoing tragedy in Flint, Michigan where the drinking water of tens of thousands of city residents was poisoned with the powerful neurotoxin lead through actions taken by state-appointed Emergency Managers.
The biggest news of the day is that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is bringing charges against two Emergency Managers – Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose – along with two city officals. From AG Schuette’s press release:
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today charged two former State of Michigan Emergency Managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, with multiple 20-year felonies for their failure to protect the citizens of Flint from health hazards caused by contaminated drinking water.
Additionally, Schuette announced that Earley and Ambrose, along with ex-City of Flint executives Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson, also face felony charges of false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses related to their roles in a process that led to the issuance bonds to pay for a portion of the KWA water project.
The main charges against Earley and Ambrose are striking:
[Earley and Ambrose both] allegedly participated in a process that allowed the use bonds to fund the construction of the KWA pipeline despite the City’s problem with its high debt level. The City of Flint, with MDEQ approval, used an exception to state law by claiming the bonds were needed to fund an emergency cleanup of a retention pond, when in fact the funds were intended to pay for the KWA. During that time, the defendants actively worked in various fashions to discourage a return to using water produced by the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, require the use of Flint River water through a Flint Water Treatment Plant, that was deemed unready for service by several people involved with its management, and to ensure the construction of the KWA.
I couldn’t be happier that Earley is facing up to 46 years in jail on felony charges. Recall that Earley went on to be the Emergency Manager for Detroit Public Schools where he presided over further decay and the destruction of the public school system there. The damage that this one man has done in the state of Michigan has earned him a jail cell, in my opinion.
The two city officials are accused of conspiring with Earley and Ambrose to secure additional debt for Flint under false pretenses.
It has been my hope all along that former Department of Environmental Quality chief Dan Wyant would be held accountable for his utter mismanagement of the department under his watch but that, apparently, is not to be. He is, it would appear, a friend of our Attorney General.
As Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott, these charges do little to fix the source of the problem: Michigan’s anti-democratic Emergency Manager law, a law AG Schuette has staunchly defended:
“The emergency manager law is fundamentally flawed because it takes away the people’s right to vote and has remained unchanged since the Flint Water Crisis began. Bill Schuette bringing charges against these emergency managers is ironic because he actually fought to preserve this undemocratic system of governing. Given that the only person emergency managers answer to is the governor, we hope the investigation will continue to reach higher until everyone involved is brought to justice. Frankly, the entire law needs to be relocated to the scrap heap of history or, in the very least, significantly altered until that day comes. This law was overturned by a vote of the people, but was then forced back on them by a Republican-controlled state government. Michigan continues to be a place where your right to vote is conditional on your zip code.
Another development happened at the federal level this past week when the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed up by Republican Jason Chaffetz, quietly shut down its “investigation” into the Flint water crisis:
Congressional Republicans quietly closed a year-long investigation into Flint, Michigan’s crisis over lead in its drinking water, faulting both state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency for contamination that has affected nearly 100,000 residents.
In letters to fellow Republicans, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Friday that Michigan and federal officials were slow in detecting high levels of lead in the water and did not act fast enough once the problem was discovered.
The committee findings offer no new information and essentially summarize what emerged during several high-profile hearings earlier this year.
“The committee found significant problems at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and unacceptable delays in the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the crisis,” wrote Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “The committee also found that the federal regulatory framework is so outdated that it sets up states to fail.”
It’s not surprising that Chaffetz oversaw a process that ended with blaming federal and state agencies tasked with protecting our environment and drinking water rather than going after the people inside those agencies who actually failed the citizens of Flint through inaction or inappropriate action. He’s long been an outspoken critic of the USEPA and the hearings held by the Committee gave him one more grandstand from which to deride the federal agency.
This past week also saw the release of a minority report of sorts, dubbed an “addendum”, to the final report issued by the Michigan House of Represenatives Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency. That report, released without buy-in from the two Democrats on the Committee, Jeff Irwin and Jim Ananich, didn’t go far enough in the mind of Rep. Irwin who released the addendum which has several very specific recommendations including:
- Delivering water and/or filters to the impacted residents of Flint
- Development of a Water Emergency Response Plan
- Forgiving Flint water bills and protection of residents from shutoffs
- A laundry list of ways to strengthen our drinking water protections
- Abandoning Emergency Management
- Municipal finance reform
- Greater state cooperation
Unfortunately Jeff is term-limited and will not return to the State House in January. It’s my sincere hope that one or more of his Democratic colleagues will take the baton from him and urge action on all of his recommendations.
Finally, though I mentioned it in the Flint update segment of one of our recent podcasts, I haven’t written about the fact that Congress has FINALLY passed the omnibus Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act which contains $170 million in spending for Flint:
Congress has finally passed an agreement to provide $170 million in long-awaited assistance for Flint and other communities affected by lead. The bipartisan agreement, championed by Senator Stabenow, Senator Peters and Congressman Kildee, passed the Senate 78-21 tonight as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act. This agreement closely mirrors legislation that passed the Senate in September by a margin of 95-3. It now goes to the desk of the President for his signature.
The agreement provides access to $100 million in funding to help fix Flint’s drinking water infrastructure; funding to activate at least $200 million in low-interest loans to upgrade water infrastructure in communities in Michigan and across the country; $50 million to address the health care needs of children who have been exposed to lead; authority for the State of Michigan to forgive $20 million in past drinking water loans to Flint; and a requirement that EPA warn the public within 24 hours of high lead levels in drinking water if a state fails to do so.
Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Dan Kildee are among the many Democrats who championed this long-awaited help for Flint and they are to be commended for their advocacy and action on this legislation.