Michigan task force blames state government for Flint water crisis

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A task force appointed by Michigan's governor found that the state government is “fundamentally accountable” for Flint’s drinking water crisis.

In a comprehensive report released Wednesday, the task force primarily blamed the state’s emergency-manager law that gave state-appointed managers wide-ranging authority over Flint’s affairs.

But it also blamed the state’s environmental and health agencies for not providing better information about the lead content of Flint’s water, the health impacts to city residents and other important data.

“The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice,” Chris Kolb, co-chairman of the task force, told reporters in unveiling the group's findings, according to Michigan Radio.

“Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to [Detroit Water and Sewerage Department] once water quality problems were encountered,” the report said.

“Given the demographics of Flint, the implications for environmental injustice cannot be ignored or dismissed.”

Under state supervision, the city changed its water supply to the Flint River in 2014 as a cost-saving move. But the water wasn't properly treated to travel through lead pipes, and the toxic metal leached into the supply.

Various people involved in and affected by the crisis have assigned different amounts of blame to Gov. Rick Snyder (R), other state officials, emergency managers, local Flint leaders and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. But the task force laid blame firmly on the state.

It found that Snyder’s office “continued to rely on incorrect information provided by these departments despite mounting evidence from outside experts and months of citizens’ complaints throughout the Flint water crisis, only changing course in early October 2015 when MDEQ and MDHHS finally acknowledged the extent of the problem of lead in the public water supply.”

Snyder said his agencies are already working to fix the problems.

“Many of the recommendations made in this report are already being implemented, both within my own office and in various state departments,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D), who represents Flint, said the report reinforces what many in Flint already knew about the state’s responsibility.

“Accountability is important to ensuring that a similar crisis never happens again. But the state of Michigan, who created this crisis, must step up and do more to help Flint recover,” Kildee said in a statement.

“Gov. Snyder has repeatedly said he is taking responsibility for the man-made crisis he created. But Flint deserves more than an apology — responsibility is making it right for the people of Flint. So far, the state’s response hasn’t even come close to what is needed.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called the report “a damning indictment of Governor Snyder's philosophy of running government like a business.”