The controversy over the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan has led to charges and counter-charges about who exactly is to blame for the unfolding tragedy. As with many stories of this nature, partisan politics has been at the forefront of the issue.
Democrats, including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have uniformly blamed the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, for his handling of the crisis and asked him to resign. In contrast, Republicans have attacked such entities as the Democrat-dominated Flint city management or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Democratic President Barack Obama.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of where to pin the blame, congressional hearings were held on March 17. Snyder testified and was lambasted by Democrats on the panel, with one of strongest voices coming from Pennsylvania congressman Matt Cartwright. The exchange between the two of them was likened by some as a trial witness undergoing a withering cross examination.
Cartwright asked Snyder if he and his administration accepted blame for the issue that has led to deaths, illnesses and the potential lifelong effects to children who have been exposed to the problem.
Snyder began to indicate that he had accepted blame during his “State of the State” address earlier this year. However, Cartwright then abruptly asked Snyder to admit that the latter’s own audit of the situation placed blame on Snyder’s Department of Environmental Quality. Snyder did so and noted that he had undertaken the task force’s recommendations.
Continued questioning from Cartwright followed much the same pattern and eventually concluded with biting remarks from the congressman. Cartwright used the term “plausible deniability” to describe what he perceived as Snyder’s willingness to push the blame on others.
Cartwright then effectively accused Snyder of lying by saying that he refused to believe that the governor knew nothing of the problem until October 2015 as he had previously stated. Saying that Snyder had not been in a coma during the previous year, Cartwright said that such denials of his awareness weren’t plausible and that his attempts to apologize lacked credibility.
The problems with the water in Flint first began in April 2014, when the decision was made to switch from buying water from neighboring Detroit’s supply to using water from the Flint River.
Due to Flint’s continued economic decline, the city that’s predominately African-American had previously been put under state management and the water decision was an effort to save money. In addition, the river water being used wasn’t treated to protect against corrosion for the same reason.
That untreated water which then flowed through the ancient infrastructure of Flint resulted in leaching that then found its way into city businesses and homes. The city’s largest employer, General Motors, eventually stopped using Flint’s water when they discovered that engine blocks were rusting.
As this scandal has progressed, evidence came about that Snyder should have been aware of this issue at least a year earlier than he had stated. In October 2014, the governor’s own legal adviser stated in an e-mail to Snyder that Flint needed to be switched back to buying Detroit’s water. The imperative nature of the request was made clear when that adviser added, “before this thing gets out of control.”
In addition, Snyder’s then-chief of staff sent him an e-mail in July 2015 that Michigan state officials had been ignoring complaints of Flint residents who complained of the taste and smell of the water. In addition, the residents were upset by the brownish tint to the water.