There is a lot of news to report today about the ongoing public health crisis in Flint. We cover this issue every week in our podcast, as well, so be sure to have a listen.
Before we get started, it’s worth noting that last Thursday was the 1,000th day since Flint started using the Flint River for its drinking water under the order of Gov. Snyder’s appointed Emergency Manager. That was the beginning of the end for Flint residents in terms of its drinking water begin poisoned with the powerful neurotoxin lead.
First up today, we have our Republican Attorney General once again being slapped down HARD! by a federal judge. This time it’s because Schuette, who is defending the state from having to make court ordered water deliveries to some Flint residents without safe water (something the Snyder administration is STILL doing), having his request to also side with the citizens of Flint in the same lawsuit denied. Schuette asked to file an amicus brief on behalf of the citizens of Flint and was told to go Cheney himself in no uncertain terms by U.S. District Judge David Lawson. Judge Lawson described Schuette’s flagrant attempt to earn political points on the backs of Flint’s beleaguered residents as “superficial posturing”. I have not been able to find Judge Lawson’s opinion online anywhere so I’m reporting here from reports from various other media outlets.
Judge Lawson said in his opinion that, “The proposed amicus brief has not introduced any new arguments or offered a perspective that has not been presented by the parties already. Instead, the attorney general has taken a position aligned with the plaintiffs and at odds with other attorneys in his own office. In doing so, he has managed to inject a troubling ethical issue into this lawsuit, potentially complicating adjudication of the serious legal questions before the Court, without adding anything of substance.” He went on to say that, “Superficial posturing does not contribute to the search for an equitable solution.”
The Detroit Free Press reports that Judge Lawson also went after AG SChuette for not following proper procedures, something you might expect him to know how to do since he’s the state’s top legal official:
Lawson also said Schuette, who is expected to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, violated court rules by adding his proposed brief to the court’s public docket without first getting permission from the court.
“‘Proposed’ orders should never be e-filed and docketed by a party,” Lawson said in scolding Michigan’s top law enforcement officer.
So, to sum up, Schuette, who has clearly been running for governor for months now, wants to be on both sides of this issue to make himself look good for his gubernatorial race and didn’t bother to follow court rules while doing it.
Next up, the latest round of federally-mandated water testing shows that Flint’s drinking water now meets federal guidelines and administration officials are now calling the water there “safe”:
Richard Kuhl, an assistant Michigan Attorney General, told U.S. Judge David Lawson on Tuesday that under state and federal rules that govern water safety, Flint’s water is meeting lead allowances.
“Progress has been made with respect to drinking water,” Kuhl told Lawson. “Is it safe? Yes.” […]
Six months of testing conducted over the last half of 2016 show Flint’s water consistently met and bettered the federal standards for lead. A water system must complete two six-month testing periods with low lead readings to establish optimal corrosion control under the federal law. While no amount of lead is considered safe, lead levels must be under a 15 parts per billion “action level.”
“The good news is that this most recent six-month monitoring period, from July 1 to the end of last year, the 90th percentile value was 12 parts per billion (for lead),” said Bryce Feighner, chief of DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, at a Flint task force meeting Friday. “So that is now below the action level of 15 parts per billion.”
The Snyder administration is bragging about the improvements that have been made and happily patting themselves on the back for it. However, they have done little themselves to actually make that happen. They have relied on the phosphate treatment now being used to cover the lead so that it does not dissolve in the water. However, any upset, including the dislodging of mineral scale, can send a flush of lead into the water at any time and residents will not trust their water until all of the lead lines have been removed. According to statements made by Snyder officials at a Flint town hall meeting last week, that will take three years if they are able to replace 6,000 lead service lines a year. They have currently replace only 600 and that is after 482 since Gov. Snyder acknowledged that his Emergency Managers had poisoned Flint’s drinking water.
It has been my contention all along that the Snyder administration would simply wait for the phosphate treatment to “fix” the problem they caused, allowing them to move on to other things like cutting education funding and lowering taxes on millionaires and billionaires. Meanwhile, the people of Flint will still have lead lines in their homes and the homes themselves will be all but worthless. This is just one more thing trapping people in Flint. Would YOU want to buy a house in Flint right now?) And this doesn’t even begin to address the damage done to appliances and fixtures in Flint homes when Snyder’s Emergency Managers sent corrosive Flint River water flowing through them to save a few dollars.
Another thing that came out of last week’s town hall meeting was that Flint’s water treatment plant won’t be ready to treat water until 2019 or 2020 due to upgrades that need to be made and training/certifying of plant workers. This is the same water treatment plant that Flint’s Emergency Managers were counting on to treat the Flint River water 1,006 days ago over the warnings of staff at the plant who told their supervisors it was not going to be ready. The Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline that will bring Lake Huron water to Flint for treatment will be operational this summer but will stand idle in Flint for two to three years until the water treatment plant is ready.
At the federal level, Democrats on the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked to file a subpoena to compel Gov. Snyder to release documents they have requested since he testified before them last year. However, on a party line vote, Republicans rebuffed them and denied the subpoena saying that things are getting better and, by the way, they have closed down their investigation anyway. Sorry, Charlie. You’re welcome, Rick.
And, finally, among the many Executive Orders issued by Pr*sident Donald Trump this week (remember when Republicans HATED Executive Orders just a few months ago?), one has frozen all grants from the USEPA. Since Flint is relying on one of these grants to upgrade its drinking water infrastructure, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell sent a letter to Pr*s. Trump and EPA acting administrator Catherine McCabe, asking if this impacts Flint, as well. “We are concerned that your directive to halt all EPA grants and agreements may jeopardize much-needed federal funding, already passed by Congress, from quickly and directly reaching Flint families recovering from this crisis,” they said in their letter. So far, there has been no response from Trump administration officials.