Report Faults State Officials, Governor’s Office, Emergency Managers for Flint Water Contamination

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

The state of Michigan released a damning report Wednesday that pointed the finger at state officials for the Flint water crisis.

The Flint Water Advisory Task Force, commissioned by Gov. Rick Snyder, singled out officials at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and emergency managers for blame, according to ThinkProgress.

The report found that officials at the MDEQ failed to act when Flint residents started reporting brown and foul-smelling water, after an emergency manager decided to switch from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River as a water source.

According to the report, the MDEQ was at fault because it failed to properly interpret the federal lead and copper rule, which offers guidelines about the levels of pollutants in water. MDEQ officials also failed to act when they received reports of contaminated water from Flint residents. Eventually, the federal Environmental Protection Agency had to step in and take action. At least two senior MDEQ officials, Dan Wyant, director, and Brad Wurfel, communications director, have since resigned.

Emergency managers also came in for harsh criticism. A Michigan law allows the state to take over troubled cities and school districts by appointing an unelected emergency manager to oversee the organizations. The emergency manager’s powers allows him to overrule the city council, so democracy essentially gets suspended. The state report found that allowing emergency managers to be in charge “remov[ed] the checks and balances and public accountability,” said ThinkProgress.

“Flint residents demanded the city switch back to the Detroit water system after problems became apparent. Elected city leaders agreed, but were powerless at the time because of the emergency manager law. Emergency managers ignored and even criticized the city leaders,” said Lindsey Smith of Michigan Radio in an NPR story.

Even though Snyder appointed the panel that looked into the Flint water crisis, he came in for his own share of criticism.

“Ultimate accountability for Michigan executive branch decisions rests with the Governor,” according to the report.

Several news reports have also stated that the governor’s staff learned of the contaminated water in October 2014, but delayed taking action because of worries about costs.

In a New York Times article, Ken Sikkema, a panel member and former state legislator, said the fact that the water crisis happened in Flint, a city of 100,000 with a large Black population, was testimony to the way the nation treated poor people of color.

“It’s not just race, it’s income status, too. Low-income people shouldn’t be subject to a different level of environmental protection than high-income people,” said Sikkema.

According to ThinkProgress, the report also made several recommendations to prevent another Flint situation from happening, such as staffing reforms at the MDEQ, improving communication with the governor’s office, increasing accountability at state offices, more frequent monitoring of children’s blood levels and reviewing the emergency manager law.

“We are taking dozens of actions to change how we operate – not just to hold ourselves accountable, but to completely change state government’s accountability to the people we serve,” said Snyder in a press release.

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