The tragic story of the mass poisoning in Flint, Michigan, has taken a truly despicable turn. Embattled Republican Governor Rick Snyder has publicly admitted that he knew about the lead-tainted water a full year ago, but didn’t do anything about it- and he’s now trying to spin the crisis as an “environmental disaster” on the level of Hurricane Katrina.
In his public interview with the National Journal, he refused to step down and continued to pass the buck for his criminal inaction with an astonishing lack of remorse or urgency: “It’s clearly a negative on what we’ve accomplished since I’ve been governor. I want to solve this problem,” Snyder said. “I don’t want to walk away from it.”
Judging from his actions, however, it is clear he didn’t want to solve the problem earlier, when it was first brought to his attention – and while he was busy exploring a personal run for the Presidency; in a tragic display of irony, on a platform named “Making Government Accountable.” However, he refused to be held accountable for selling polluted water to his citizens. The Washington Post reported that
Residents soon began reporting tap water that appeared discolored, smelled rotten and caused kids to break out in rashes… Officials responded by pumping hazardous levels of chlorine into the water. When complaints persisted, officials assured citizens that the water was safe to drink, repeatedly disregarding clear evidence that it wasn’t. Snyder appointed a task force to investigate the crisis, which found, among other things, that legitimate fears were met with ‘aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit’ the individuals speaking out.”
Snyder admitted that he was aware of the crisis for several months before the information was revealed to the public; he refused to acknowledge exactly how long it was (“I’m not sure of the specific date”) and when confronted with the fact that the EPA knew in February 2015 that there were extreme levels of lead, Snyder tried to pass the blame off to them, in typical Republican fashion: “I think there are issues at the EPA through the course of all this.”
However, nobody’s buying it. Snyder has run begging for help from the federal government, which designated the area as a “federal emergency” but refused to designate it a “disaster area,” as it “does not meet the legal definition of a ‘major disaster’” under federal law. “The incident was not the result of a natural catastrophe, nor was it created by a fire, flood or explosion” stated FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate. FEMA has thus rejected Snyder’s demand for $96 million in emergency funds, allotting them $5 million in emergency funds and passing the onus for more on to Congress.
Snyder caused this mess; he’s going to have to clean it up. Republican governors cannot keep running and crying to Washington after their budget-busting corporate handouts ruin their state treasuries. The switch from Detroit’s Lake Huron river source to the polluted Flint River was prompted by an attempt to cut corners; his subsequent refusal to shell out $100 a day to keep his people safe led the poisoning of thousands, and will end up costing him much more in the long run.
But the human cost cannot be quantified. A generation of Flint children have been permanently damaged. As whistle-blower Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha sadly observed, “in five years, these kids are going to have problems with special education. They’re going to have cognition problems. Seven to 10 years, they’re going to have behavioral problems.”
The comparison to Katrina only holds up as far as both crises were products of Republican refusal to take action to protect the citizens of a mostly black city. But the pain and suffering that has been inflicted upon the residents of Flint were not the products of nature’s indiscriminate and remorseless wrath; but the product of deliberate inaction and criminal judgement by the elected caretakers of the people. It will require another year of filtration and cleaning just to make the water system potable again; the damage to the health of Flint citizens is irreparable. Snyder must be forced to face justice for his crimes.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.