Below is an excerpt from a series called “Environmental Exploits of Pure Michigan” which is scheduled to be published in March 2016.
“Did they take a serious look at what was going on with that river before they decided to make the switch? And it’s either that they didn’t do that, which I would think is gross negligence, or they did do it and ignored whatever they found” – Curt Guyette of the Mi ACLU talking to Amy Goodman 1/8/16
In 2014 the population of Flint, Michigan fell victim to a financial ruse which would expose itself through wide spread poisoning initiated by a decision made to effect an economic bottom line. The aging infrastructure throughout the city’s plumbing systems contained lead based pipes and soldering which began to leach out the harmful metal the very moment an Emergency Financial Manger celebrated the cost cutting measures to switch the drinking water source for the city’s 100,000 residents. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has successfully diverted attention away from themselves by the self-sacrificial resignation of their director, Dan Wyant.
After 50 years of using water pumped from Lake Huron, treated in Detroit, and shipped through a pipeline 70 miles north to Flint, austerity measures were put in place due to economic hardship. Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency financial manager to take over the elected Mayor of Flint’s duties. The state appointed manager made a financial decision to save money by switching from the Detroit water system to the proven corrosive waters of the Flint River. The Department of Environmental Quality approved the permits- becoming the most well informed accomplice in the disaster. In 2013 the DEQ ran a study to find out how much chloride is in several bodies of water throughout Michigan. The results of this study, as reported by WMUK, shows that the DEQ new how corrosive the Flint River is due to high levels of chloride from road salt, and even tried to cover it up. Had the DEQ actually done what their department was designed to do, and denied the permits, the people of Flint would not have endured the excruciatingly high levels of lead in their tap water.
In April of 2014, MDEQ let Flint’s emergency manager, Darnell Early, push through multiple permit applications (approved) to switch Flint’s drinking water supply from their connection with Detroit to sourcing their own supply from the Flint River in order to cut costs and save money. On March 28, 2014 MLive reported that the DEQ had yet to receive the proper paperwork and that it could take 30-45 days to go through the permitting process. This process’ time frame would normally begin when the paper work was received. On April 5th, 2014 MLive quoted Early saying “We expect to have the permit early next week. We are still on track to operate our treatment plant this spring.” On April 10th, Flint gained final approval to switch from the treated Detroit water, to their Flint River source. The final approval came merely thirteen days after the DEQ was quoted saying they had not received all of the necessary paper work.
Fast forward to more than a year, and many citizen complaints later-after seeing a Flint mother and her story, Virginia Tech enters the controversy with 300 test kits. Eventually a storm of FOIA requests would be filed by not only the Michigan ACLU, but also by a politician and other organizations. Although MDEQ attempted to cover it all up the results from the answered FOIA’s as well as the out of state testing reads: Flint’s water is poisoned with an alarming rate of lead, the DEQ continued to ignore citizen concerns, as well as concerns raised from the EPA to the MDEQ. The DEQ failed to to ensure that the standards in the Safe Drinking Water Act would be met when the switch from Detroit to the Flint River was made. The people of Flint were poisoned by not only the financial decisions made by a state ran heist, but more importantly the regulations that are the responsibility of the DEQ were completely absent. The DEQ seems to have faded into obscurity after the Wyant resignation. The national attention to the issue has picked up as people are calling for Snyder’s arrest.
In no effort to defend the actions of Snyder or Early, we must view them as corporate types who are, have been, and probably will always be the kind of people who publicly put economic benefactors before almost everything else. Rick Snyder was elected by Michigan voters on the platform of making Michigan a good place to do business, and many of the initiatives he has undertaken has proven his top priority to be an honest one. The implementation of Emergency Financial Managers falls right in line with his pre-political careers of business executive, venture capitalist, and accountant. Darnell Early was appointed to the role of Emergency Financial Manager to do exactly what his job title states- manage finances and fix the bottom line. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was designed to be a checkpoint and ensure the quality of the environment not only for it’s own sake, but also for the sake of human interaction and consumption of the resources pulled from the environment. When ex- governor John Engler split the Department of Natural Resources into two departments, thus creating the Department of Environmental Quality in 1995, the first responsibilities given to the DEQ were for environmental health programs relating to drinking water and radiological protection (Executive Order No. 1996-1). Governor Rick Snyder also chose to divide the departments with his first executive order (2011-1) on Jan 4th, 2011- effectively carrying all responsibilities and maintaining the department.
Although the DEQ is ultimately controlled by the governor, the largest failing in this entire crisis is that of the DEQ to meet their first two self-declared strategic goals, which read:
-Protect public health
-Improve the quality of air, land and water resources
Another question we might raise is can MDEQ meet these two strategic goals if concern for the public is not included in their three guiding principles? If the department guides itself to be leaders in environmental stewardship, partners in economic development, and providers of excellent customer service; we must consider who they perceive their customers are, and in what ways they are served. The answer: obviously not us.
The water crisis has lead to a State of Emergency, and the suspicious solution to have state troopers deliver water door to door. While keeping pressure on the governor is important (he should be removed from office for a myriad of reasons) we must remember that the DEQ will continue after Snyder is gone. Even IF Rick is thrown into a posh white-collar jail or prison, the systems and culture in place at the DEQ will continue to favor business, industrial efforts, and tight budgets instead of the environmental concerns that plague the Great Lakes.
To follow the water study please visit the website for Flint Water Study