Last fall, when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) started to recognize the severity of the catastrophe in Flint, he appointed members to a task force to determine what went wrong. There were concerns that the panel might hesitate before pointing the finger at the same governor who tasked them with uncovering the truth.
It was all the more striking, then, when the panel issued a report yesterday that said it’s the Snyder administration that’s “fundamentally accountable” for the Flint crisis, because it was the governor’s environmental regulators and state-appointed emergency managers who created the mess. The state Associated Press reported:
The panel … said what happened in Flint is “a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice.” It also cited “intransigence and belligerence that has no place in government.”“Flint water customers were needlessly and tragically exposed to toxic levels of lead and other hazards through the mismanagement of their drinking water supply,” investigators said.Moreover, the 116-page report described as “inappropriate” a frequent claim of Snyder and his representatives that the Flint water crisis represents a failure of the local, state and federal governments. That suggests “that blame is attributable equally to all three levels of government,” the report said.
The document, available online in its entirety, concluded, “The state is fundamentally accountable for what happened in Flint.
And what about the effort on the part of Republicans and both-sides-are-always-to-blame pundits to hold the federal EPA responsible for Flint?
The report included criticisms of the EPA, which the task force said was too deferential towards the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. In effect, federal officials had the legal authority to intervene more aggressively in state affairs, but they were slow and hesitant to do so.
It creates an odd dynamic for Republicans hoping to exploit this angle for partisan purposes: they’re left to complain that the EPA acted too much the way Republicans expects the agency to act.
Regardless, the findings weren’t really about the EPA. Rather, the report lays the Flint disaster at the governor’s feet.
As for the road ahead, the New York Times summarized the task force’s recommendations.
The panel made 44 recommendations, including that the governor’s office review the state’s emergency manager law, that environmental regulations be clarified, and that the governor’s office improve its method of assessing information.It chastised government officials for inadequate funding of government services, urging that all levels of government establish “budgets for public health activities at federal, state and local levels to ensure that highly skilled personnel and adequate resources are available.”“The consequences of underfunding,” it said, “include insufficient and inefficient responses to public health concerns, which have been evident in the Flint water crisis.”It also urged Mr. Snyder to “issue an executive order mandating guidance and training on environmental justice across all state agencies in Michigan, highlighting the Flint water crisis as an example of environmental injustice.” The report added: “The state should reinvigorate and update implementation of an environmental justice plan for the State of Michigan.”
For his part, the governor told reporters yesterday he’s eager to implement some of the recommended changes.