Thursday, January 21, 2016

Flint Water Crisis - in the Wall Street Journal


tc.)~r
Through Hell and Flint Water ,-L_!·-t-t
1/21/16

 


                   

The real scandal is

government failure-
local, state and federal.
----------==-=-=-----

------------




M

ichigan Governor Rick Snyder apolo-
gized Tuesday for the contaminated
water crisis in Flint, and rightly so.
Hillary Clinton and most of the
media are peddling this as a
parable of Republican neglect
of a poor black city. But the
real Flint story is a cascade of
government failure, including
the Environmental Protection
Agency.

An auto factory town some 65 miles from De-
troit, Flint has been under emergency manage-
ment since 2011 after decades of misrule: More
than 40 of residents live in poverty; the popu-
lation has fallen by half since the 1960s to about
100,000. Bloated pensions and retiree health
care gobble up about 33 cents of every dollar in
the general fund.

This grim financial reality explains why in
2013 the city sought to save millions by switch-
ing water sources, dropping expensive, treated
aqua routed through Detroit. Flint's then-emer-
gency manager Ed Kurtz agreed to join a new au-
thority that would pipe water from Lake Huron.
The next day Detroit said it would kick Flint off
its water contract in a year, well before the new
pipeline was finished. In the interim the city de-
cided to slurp up the Flint River, not known for
cerulean clarity. For months residents com-
plained about murky water, but local officials of-
fered assurances.

The folks running Flint and the Michigan De-
partment of Environmental Quality'(MDEQ) ap-
parently had no idea how to pump water through
Flint's rickety pipes-and thus corroded metal
leached into the water supply. A federal Lead and
Copper Rule stipulates that sprawling public wa-
ter systems must control corrosion. Flint and
MDEQ weren't handling this properly, if at all,
as emails obtained through the Freedom of In-
formation Act by Virginia Tech researcher Marc
Edwards reveal. Mr. Edwards told MDEQ in Au-
gust of last year that he intended to study Flint's
water and he turned up lead leaching in Septem-
ber. MDEQ initially dismissed his findings.

If there were ever a moment for federal ac-
tion, this would seem to be it. MDEQ and the EPA
were chatting about Flint's system as early as
February. MDEQ said it wanted to test the water
more before deciding on corrosion controls,
though it isn't clear that federal law allows this.

 





In a May email to the EPA, a MDEQ staffer said
that requiring a corrosion study "will be oflittle
to no value" because, hey, we're heading to Lake
Huron any day now. EPA did
not intervene.

EPA Region 5 water expert
Miguel Del Toral worked up an
internal memo in June flagging
the lack of corrosion control as
"a major concern" for public
health. He further noted that Flint's testing might
be producing misleading results, as the city told
residents to flush toilets before collecting a sam-
ple, which can wash away lead. If contaminated
water had flowed somewhere inhabited by a man-
atee, the feds would have sped to Michigan.

But here's how the region's top EPA official,
political appointee Susan Hedman, responded
in a July 1 email to Flint's Mayor Dayne Walling,
after Mr. Del Toral's memo was leaked: "When
the report has been revised and fully vetted by
EPA management, the findings and recommen-
dations will be shared with the City and MDEQ
and MDEQ will be responsible for following up
with the City." She also noted over email that it's
"a preliminary draft" and it'd be "premature to
draw any conclusions." The EPA did not notify
the public. This report rotted and wasn't re-
leased for months while tawny, infected water
ran from faucets across Flint.

None of this exonerates Governor Snyder, but
at least he sacked people at MDEQ in December,
including the director. Ms. Hedman still works
at the EPA, which now says that "necessaryac-
tions were riot taken as quickly as they should
have been," and no kidding. On Wednesday af-
ternoon Mr. Snyder released his emails pertain-
ing to the crisis, a good move for ensuring that
all involved are held accountable.

Flint switched back to Detroit's water in Octo-
her, but the pipes had already been damaged.
The water in Flint still isn't safe to drink, and
President Obama has declared a state of emer-
gency. Mr. Snyder asked the legislature for $28
million to send to Flint, though there's no quick
fix for an infrastructure problem.

The broader lesson is that ladling on layers
of bureaucracy doesn't result in better oversight
and safety. It sometimes lets agencies shirk re-
sponsibility for the basic public services like
clean water that government is responsible for
providing.

Post a Comment