As regular viewers know, The Rachel Maddow Show has devoted a great deal of time to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but if you haven’t been focused on this scandal yet, it’s important to get up to speed.
Over the weekend, for example, the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press turned its attention directly to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who’s facing calls for his arrest from protestors, comparing his handling of the Flint crisis to George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Right now, the State of Michigan should be able to say that it has ensured the delivery of bottled water and water filters to every Flint resident whose drinking water has been contaminated by lead…. Instead, the governor is offering placid responses and slow-walking important remedies, while the investigation into how one of Michigan’s greatest man-made public health crises unfolded comes up with explanations in dribs and drabs.It’s not just derelict – it invokes inglorious comparison to other callous and insensitive official responses to tragedy. Think of the shameful federal response to Hurricane Katrina, where the same lack of urgency delayed life-saving aid. The poverty rate in Flint is 40%; 52% of Flint residents are African-American. And so we are prompted to ask: How would the state have responded to a crisis of such proportions in a community with more wealth and power?
Of course, there’s a key, heartbreaking difference between recent developments in Flint and the crisis in New Orleans in 2005: Katrina was a natural disaster; Flint’s disaster was the result of public officials showing breathtakingly bad judgment.
Let’s recap how we reached this point.
In 2014, the city of Flint, under the control of an “emergency manager” appointed by the governor, was looking for ways to save money. To that end, the Snyder administration approved a plan in which the city would switch its water source: instead of getting water from Detroit, Flint would cut costs by drawing water directly from the Flint River.
In theory, there’s nothing particularly wrong with getting drinking and bathing water from a nearby river; plenty of communities across the country already do that. But in order to make Flint River water safe for people, it has to receive a special anti-corrosion treatment. Failing to treat the water sends corrosive river water through local pipes, it starts to eat through plumbing, and the result is lead poisoning.
The Snyder administration did not take the necessary precautions. What’s more, as the community grew concerned about its water, administration officials initially told local residents not to worry and to keep drinking the water.
The result, of course, is a public health crisis in which countless city residents, including many children, have been poisoned, which leads to severe and long lasting consequences. Snyder last week declared an official emergency – he also issued an apology of sorts on New Year’s Eve – but the people of Flint still don’t have safe, clean water.
There’s also the political crisis as a result of this man-made disaster. The EPA warned Snyder administration officials about rising lead levels, but the governor did not alert the public and state officials delayed action to address the problem.
The Republican governor is now facing calls for his resignation and #ArrestGovSnyder protests. Local residents are also moving forward with a class-action lawsuit over the crisis, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Michigan has confirmed it is investigating the matter to determine if any laws were broken.
The Detroit Free Press reported late yesterday that Michigan State Police troopers and other state officials “will start a door-to-door sweep of Flint on Tuesday to hand out bottled water and water filters, and the White House says it is monitoring the situation ‘very closely.’”
For more on how to help Flint residents, we’ve posted information online here. I’ve also included links below to each of the segments aired on The Rachel Maddow Show about the crisis over the last couple of weeks: