Not Surprisingly, Investigation Says State Government Responsible for Flint Water Poisoning

A panel created to investigate and point fingers at those responsible for the poisoning of Flint's water supply has published their findings and they point a finger at several agencies within the state government and, more significantly, the emergency managers appointed by Governor Rick Snyder.

“[T]he state is fundamentally accountable for what happened in Flint,” it states. “The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice.”

The report enumerates a number of shortcomings among state agencies, particularly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), which it says bears “primary responsibility” for the water contamination and “failed in its fundamental responsibility to effectively enforce drinking water regulations.”

As you may recall, emergency managers have claimed they were not chiefly responsible for making the decision to alter the city's water source, but this report makes it clear that emergency management was and is responsible.

The report also found, contrary to the claims of former emergency managers such as Darnell Earley, that emergency managers and not Flint’s local officials made the decision to switch Flint’s water from Detroit to the Flint River, which was a first step in the contamination crisis.

As the head of the executive branch of the state government, Governor Snyder is ultimately responsible for these failings. Governor Snyder pushed for emergency management. He selects the managers who only answer to him. Governor Snyder appointed the agency heads who presided over this disaster and, as we've seen, the governor's closest aides and advisers knew about the problem a year before the state confronted it publicly.

The reports faults the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well but personally I find that hard to take seriously. Maybe the EPA didn't act in a capacity that it could have, but it would be a lie to say the EPA hasn't faced an enormous amount of obstruction over the past six years from Republicans in Congress, state legislatures, and local state agencies. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't.

The Republican war against the EPA is ongoing. The budget blueprint being pushed by House Republican leadership would gut the EPA's ability to regulate.

  • Draxiar

    Sadly this will only enforce for the true believers that big government doesn’t work (glossing over the fact that it’s their guy that did this).

  • muselet

    A particularly striking part of the report:

    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 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.

    Rick Snyder had been told by senior staff that the water in Flint was contaminated. He knew what was happening—and knew what was happening was nothing good, despite the happy-talk, everything’s-peachy, nothing-to-see-here reports coming from MDEQ and MDHHS—and did nothing of consequence.