Independent Panel Finds That State Is Fundamentally Accountable For What Happened In Flint
Cites Negligence At All Levels And Says It Not Only Affects The Citizens Of Flint’s Health, But Their “Trust In Government”
An investigatory panel specifically commissioned by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder issued its final report Wednesday regarding its findings towards the government negligence which led to the ongoing crisis in Flint, MI. The report wastes little time in casting blame on the State of Michigan, its bureaucratic agencies responsible for minimizing the impact of this catastrophe, and Governor Snyder himself for his willful disregard of the situation until such time as it could not be ignored due to mass media attention.
The report confirms and expands on a number of suspected shortcomings, oversights, and general apathy from Michigan state agencies, particularly the Michigan Department of Environmental Equality (MDEQ) which allowed the crisis to dramatically worsen. It found that MDEQ misinterpreted the federal lead and copper rule, which means to protect Americans from drinking elevated levels of lead, and then in turn made things worse by misapplying its requirements and under-reporting the high exposure for residents that continued for months. It found further – and seemingly suggests that pride played a factor – that MDEQ waited too long before begrudgingly permitting an intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to perform its own investigation.
Its executive summary opens by saying “The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental justice. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) failed in its fundamental responsibility to effectively enforce drinking water regulations. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) failed to adequately and promptly act to protect public health. Both agencies, but principally the MDEQ, stubbornly worked to discredit and dismiss others’ attempts to bring the issues of unsafe water, lead contamination, and increased cases of Legionellosis to light.”
Further into the executive summary, the report issues a direct indictment of Snyder’s apathetic incompetence, writing “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. The significant consequences of these failures will be long-lasting. They have deeply affected Flint’s public health, its economic future, and residents’ trust in government.”
The report then continues onto cast blame at the state-appointed emergency managers who were installed by Snyder to manage the situation. Contrary to claims that emergency managers, and not Flint’s local officials, originally made the decision to switch Flint’s water from Detroit to the Flint River, the report also found that this government oversight was the first grave misstep in a series of judgement errors which ultimately led to the Federal Crisis.
As a result of the combined failings of MDEQ, MDHHS, and Flint’s emergency managers who were appointed by Snyder given Flint’s dire economic situation, the report places primary accountability on state government and the Snyder Administration.
Ultimate accountability for Michigan executive branch decisions rest with the Governor.”
In his press release responding to the report, Snyder did not mention those findings, or the accusatory tone the report concludes with, instead choosing to focus on the state’s cooperation with many of the report’s recommendations. “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.
The Flint water crisis is a clear case of environmental injustice.” Snyder has maintained that race did not play a role in the crisis. Yet the report says, “Flint residents, who are majority Black or African American and among the most impoverished of any metropolitan area in the United States, did not enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as that provided to other communities.
People of color are more likely to live near, and subsequently be exposed to pollution and contamination. The Black Lives Matter movement released an official statement in January standing in solidarity with the resident of Flint.