Snyder not at peace with Flint water crisis as he preps to leave office

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder gives an exit interview to editorial board and reporters of The Detroit News in the Tony Snow conference room at the newspaper office in downtown Detroit on Friday, December 7, 2018.

Reflecting on his tenure, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said he'll "always have issues" with the lead contamination of Flint's water and how the matter was handled by the "so-called" water experts who worked for him.

"I’ll always have issues with Flint because it was a terrible thing to have happen," Snyder told The Detroit News editorial board Friday.

"We had failures at all levels of government, but some of the people involved — particularly the so-called experts in water — made some bad calls in my view, and they worked for me. I did what I always think you should do and take responsibility for that, so that’s something that I won’t forget."

Snyder, a Republican, said his administration tried to turn the Flint water crisis into a "learning experience" by adopting the country's strictest standards for lead and copper in drinking water.

Through the administrative rules process, Snyder is lowering Michigan's threshold for action on lead in water to 10 parts per billion by 2020, down from the current state and federal law requiring action if lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion in 90th percentile testing. 

Snyder noted the federal government still has not updated its decades-old rules.

"Our national government is still negligent or delinquent in doing the right things for the rules for safe water," Snyder said. 

In response to questions, Snyder said he has "no worries" about incoming Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel suggesting she might re-examine the Flint probe by Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette's special prosecutor after Schuette leaves office next year. 

"I hope people do look at it because, again, as I look at some of these people that are currently being charged, I don’t fully understand all those issues," Snyder said.

"Again, it’s pending litigation so I can’t say much about it, but I don’t know why they’re facing some of those charges."

Schuette's special prosecutor has charged two Snyder health officials with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes, including State Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells, whom a judge bound over for trial Friday morning.

Two state-appointed emergency managers also have been criminally charged, as have four current and former Department of Environmental Quality officials.

Congress might also be reopening its Flint investigation, with the incoming Democratic chair of the House Oversight committee telling The Detroit News he's likely to bring Snyder back to Washington. 

"I'm not done with Flint," U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said last week. 

Asked if he would go if called, Snyder said, "I don't know for what."

"We cooperated. I testified. We sent all the information. I’m somewhat confused because I don’t know what the question is that hasn’t already been answered," Snyder added. 

Snyder testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March 2016, where Cummings and other Democrats called for his resignation.

Cummings later raised questions over whether Snyder had lied in his testimony about when he became aware of concerns relating to Flint's outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, a deadly form of pneumonia that killed 12 people and sickened dozens of others in Genesee County in 2014-15.

The matter came up after Snyder's urban affairs adviser, Harvey Hollins, testified that he informed the governor about the Legionnaires’ outbreak in December 2015.

Snyder has stuck by his testimony that he first learned about the Legionnaires' concerns in January 2016.

Cummings had pressed the Republican committee chairman to issue a subpoena demanding Snyder comply fully with bipartisan requests for documents about the decision to switch the source of Flint's drinking water.

A spokeswoman for committee Democrats said Friday they still expect Snyder to provide those documents.