A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where a criminally inept government contaminated the drinking water with lead and spent months pretending the problem didn’t exist. Now, the other shoe has dropped:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top Midwest official said her department knew as early as April about the lack of corrosion controls in Flint’s water supply — a situation that likely put residents at risk for lead contamination — but said her hands were tied in bringing the information to the public.
Starting with inquiries made in February, the federal agency battled Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality behind the scenes for at least six months over whether Flint needed to use chemical treatments to keep lead lines and plumbing connections from leaching into drinking water. The EPA did not publicize its concern that Flint residents’ health was jeopardized by the state’s insistence that such controls were not required by law.
Instead of moving quickly to verify the concerns or take preventative measures, federal officials opted to prod the DEQ to act, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman told The Detroit News this week. Hedman said she sought a legal opinion on whether the EPA could force action, but it wasn’t completed until November.
The EPA’s point is that actual decision-making is made by the DEQ, a state-level agency. They mainly monitor and advise. But that doesn’t explain why they spent six months in bureaucratic tickle fight instead of, you know, telling a city of tens of thousands people that there water was poisonous.
This is the second time the EPA has stayed quiet on a massive ecological disaster as you may remember from last year’s mine blowout. Amazing, the EPA is standing by that decision.
The Democrats are in a huff to blame Snyder for this. And, to be fair, Snyder does deserve some blame. The decision to switch to river water was signed off on by the emergency manager and Snyder picked the emergency manager. Responsibility rolls upward.
But this is not exclusively or even mainly the fault of the governor or austerity or “free markets”. Snyder has released a trove of e-mails show that the DEQ concealed what was going on, from him and from the citizens of Flint. Dalmia walks us through how this was a failure at every level of government, not because of an emergency manager or austerity but because of incompetence, cover-up and malfeasance:
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency that is responsible for implementing federal EPA environmental standards and ensure water standards, ignored citizen concerns that there was something wrong with the water they were getting from the new Flint River water system.
The EPA required the DEQ to perform a faulty test to measure water quality that totally failed to catch the problem. That’s not all that the EPA did wrong, however. Even after it realized that the DEQ wasn’t taking a simple step necessary to prevent lead poisoning – namely adding phosphorous – it did absolutely nothing. It didn’t go public with this information; it didn’t warn residents that they should take steps to prevent themselves. It basically fiddled as Flint residents were getting poisoned. What’s even more infuriating? It would have cost less than $50,000 annually to add the phosphorous.
The local mayor was even worse than the EPA. If the EPA passively allowed residents to poison themselves, the mayor actively encouraged them to do so. He told them that there was nothing wrong with the water and they’d be wasting their “precious” money by buying bottled water. This, incidentally, was after GM stopped using this water because it was corroding auto parts.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services dismissed tests showing a spike in lead levels in blood tests of local residents after the switch to Flint River as a “seasonal anomaly.”
(The Mayor of Flint actually drank some of the water on TV to prove it was safe. Greg Branch has written another good explainer that breaks down what happened.)
You get it now, liberals? I know you hate Snyder. I know you hate Republicans. I know you hate the whole emergency manager thing. But this went a lot deeper than Snyder. He wasn’t the one who signed off on the switch and then spent months ignoring or deliberately covering up the problem. Quit using this an excuse to go after a governor you don’t like. Yes, he bears some responsibility. There may two people in this whole mess who don’t. But there are a lot of people who a lot more responsibility than Snyder. And most of them are Democrats.