For the last few weeks, the Snyder administration has been pushing the narrative that the real culprit in the Flint water crisis was the federal Environmental Protection Agency. They don’t deny the state had some role in the crisis.
The mantra they’ve been chanting is “mistakes were made at all levels of government.”
But they’ve wanted to create the impression that the EPA was mostly to blame. Republicans especially love this explanation since, while they control all levels of state government, the President is a Democrat and technically responsible for all his appointees.
Well, we now have the complete report of the task force appointed by the governor, and it makes it clear that saying the federal government deserves the blame is a lie.
“MDEQ (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) caused this crisis to happen,” their report says flatly, adding “moreover, when confronted with evidence of its failures, MDEQ responded publicly … with a degree of intransigence and belligerence that has no place in government.
“These failures are not diminished, nor should focus on them be deflected, by the fact that other parties contributed to the disastrous decisions.”
And while the federal EPA may indeed have been too slow to step in, the report makes it quite clear that the “other parties” to blame are primarily state appointees, and, though it doesn’t explicitly say so, an out-of-touch governor himself.
The report also slams the state’s emergency manager law, something which has been a hallmark of the Snyder administration.
Public opinion on this has never mattered to this governor. When the voters repealed the emergency law four years ago, he immediately had the Legislature enact another.
Emergency management did work in Detroit, possibly because the emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, created to some extent his own checks and balances and everything he did came under intense public scrutiny. But it was an utter failure in Flint. The task force’s report gives the lie to another claim Governor Snyder’s defenders have been making: That the decision to use Flint River water was supported by local officials.
It was entirely the four emergency managers.
The task force report doesn’t single out any of them, though it makes it clear it was the second one, Ed Kurtz, who made the decision to switch to Flint River water. But if there is one person who bears most of the blame, it is Darnell Earley, who followed him. Earley, like most of the Snyder administration, had no interest in what thousands of increasingly desperate Flint residents thought.
But he also resisted appeals from worried Snyder administration officials who thought maybe the city should go back to Detroit water. To again quote the report, Earley “maintained the water quality problems can be solved” by his team, and said it would cost too much to switch back. Of course, he never solved the problems.
Instead, Earley was appointed emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools, until he was pressured into resigning that job last month.
There is a lot more in this report, but it lays out this bottom line:
“We believe the larger issue is one of accountability ... we believe the state must assume that accountability.”
That means Governor Rick Snyder, his appointees and lack of oversight, caused this.
We will be living with the consequences long after he is gone.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.