AG Schuette to investigate Flint’s water crisis

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will investigate Flint’s ongoing water crisis to determine if any state laws were violated, his office announced early Friday morning.

Schuette will work with federal, state and local officials, along with Flint residents and community leaders, as his office seeks answers to the ongoing crisis. The probe will begin immediately, his office said. .

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“The situation in Flint is a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life," Schuette said in a statement. “While everyone acknowledges that mistakes were made, my duty as attorney general requires that I conduct this investigation.”

His hope, he continued, is that “through the process we can help restore some of the trust in our government while helping families move forward.”

Flint residents are relying on bottled water to drink, cook and bathe with as a result of the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis that was caused by switching Flint’s water source from spring 2014 to this past October.

“As attorney general, I will investigate this situation to determine if any Michigan laws have been broken,” Schuette said in a statement. “Without fear or favor, I will carry out my responsibility to enforce the laws meant to protect Michigan families, and represent the citizens of Flint.”

Schuette’s announcement follows one more than a week ago by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit that it was probing Flint’s contaminated water crisis along with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our policy has always been that we neither confirm nor deny investigations; however, the nature of this situation warranted an exception to that policy,” said Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

Elevated blood-lead levels found in some Flint children have been linked to contaminated drinking water. The state confirmed those findings in October, months after independent researchers first began to raise alarms.

Health officials this week also disclosed a past spike in Legionnaire’s disease in the Flint area and said it was unclear if there was a connection to the drinking water problems.

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Michigan Democrats, though, don’t trust Schuette, a Republican, and want an independent investigator to handle the Flint probe.

“Bill Schuette has disqualified himself from conducting a fair and honest investigation of the Snyder administration’s role in the Flint water crisis, plain and simple,” said Brandon Dillon, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, in a statement. “His history of stonewalling the release of critical information to the people of Flint shows that he is more interested in protecting his Republican cronies than getting to the bottom of what Snyder knew and when.

“What’s more, Schuette is the one responsible for defending Snyder against lawsuits from the people of Flint, raising a serious conflict of interest ... Schuette is more interested in political opportunity and protecting his Republican friends than he is in protecting the people of Flint.”

Schuette's decision to investigate was announced a day after Gov. Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency in Flint and expedite major disaster relief in Genesee County.

The governor requested federal financial aid for both individuals and state and government agencies involved in assisting Flint residents and repairing a public water pipeline infrastructure damaged by corrosive river water blamed for lead contamination.

Snyder’s request to Obama seeks federal tax dollars to give individuals grants for temporary housing and repairs to their homes and low-cost loans for covering uninsured loss of property. The request also seeks federal aid to help repair public schools and other public facilities with damaged pipelines.

“We are utilizing all state resources to ensure Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water, and today I am asking President Obama to provide additional resources as our recovery efforts continue,” Snyder said.

Flint’s water contamination crisis would only qualify for federal emergency status — not natural disaster assistance — since it was a man-made disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will review the emergency declaration request and advise Obama on whether a major disaster declaration should be made, according to Snyder’s office.

On Tuesday, Snyder activated the Michigan National Guard to help distribute water supplies in Flint and requested help from FEMA to coordinate with other federal agencies to provide resources and expertise fixing the city’s lead-tainted water supply.

Snyder already has talked to the White House liaison on state issues, Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson and the regional FEMA director as part of his request for FEMA’s technical assistance, Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said.

Following Tuesday’s request, FEMA appointed a federal disaster recovery coordinator for the state.

Democrats have been harping on Snyder to seek federal disaster aid since he declared a state of emergency Jan. 5 in Flint over the crisis, which stems from switching the city’s source of drinking water from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality admitted it failed to force the city to treat the water with corrosion controls, which caused old lead connections to leech.

On MSNBC Thursday night, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton continued her criticism of Snyder’s handling of the crisis.

“Right now, as best I can understand, the governor, the Republican governor, Gov. Snyder, is refusing to ask for the triggering of the federal help that he needs in order to take care of the people who are his constituents,” said Clinton, who sent aides to Flint on Wednesday to meet with Mayor Karen Weaver. “And I am just outraged by this.”

Snyder said Monday a federal disaster request was being drafted, but noted it took a month in August 2014 for the state to seek federal aid following floods in Metro Detroit after assessing the damage.

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