Dem leader Reid calls on GOP to back $600M Flint plan

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called Tuesday on Republicans to join Democrats in supporting the $600 million proposal by Michigan’s two senators to help fix the lead-contamination water crisis in Flint.

The Nevada Democrat, speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate, gestured to a large poster photograph of discolored water pooling in a sink under a faucet and said the nation has become “concerned, afraid, even outraged” in recent weeks to learn of the “poisoning” of Flint residents.

The drinking water has been compromised since the April 2014 shifting of the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. A Gov. Rick Snyder-appointed task force has blamed a culture of passivity in the state Department of Environmental Quality for a failure to add corrosion controls, which caused lead to leach from connections in the city’s water system.

“There’s no trick photography here. ... This is the water that they were drinking, bathing in. It’s hard to comprehend that this went on for such a long time,” Reid said.

“This is a man-made crisis. We will never know the full extent of the damage to the people who live in Flint, Michigan. Especially the children. They’ve been harmed because they’ve been poisoned by the acts of the leadership of the state of Michigan, especially the governor.”

Reid urged support for an amendment to the bipartisan energy policy bill introduced by Democratic Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow that aims to jump-start the process of repairing or replacing lead services lines contributing to the contamination of drinking water in Flint.

The amendment would provide up to $400 million in federal emergency funding to the Environmental Protection Agency to help fix Flint’s water-supply infrastructure, hire new personnel and cover the cost of technical assistance provided by the EPA or its contractors.

The proposal would also create and fund a $200 million Center of Excellence on Lead Exposure to research the immediate and long-term needs of children and adults exposed to lead and communicate with the community.

Reid noted that Snyder has turned to the federal government for help, and “I hope Senate Republicans support our efforts to protect the people of Flint in their time of need.”

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel criticized Reid for turning Flint’s contaminated water into a partisan issue.

“It’s a shame that Democrats like Harry Reid continue to use the people of Flint for their political game instead of focusing on real solutions for the city,” McDaniel said in a Tuesday statement. “If politicians like Reid and Hillary Clinton truly cared about residents in the city, they’d push for the federal government to stop denying requests from Michigan for additional help and resources.”

Snyder requested $96 million in federal natural disaster assistance, but Obama’s Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down the governor’s application because Flint is a man-made disaster. The U.S. Department of Agriculture this weekend also rejected Snyder’s request to increase access for Flint children ages 5 to 10 to the federal nutritional program for low-income women and children.

The federal law for the Women, Infants and Children program limits eligibility to kids up to age 5, the Agriculture Department’s Midwest Region ruled in a Friday letter, adding that “Any changes to WIC eligibility requirements would require congressional action.”

Reid also took a shot at some senators on the floor.

“Sadly, some of the same Republicans that call for relief when their states face natural disasters are disparaging government action in Flint,” Reid said, referring, for instance, to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, who said last week the problem is primarily a “state and local responsibility.”

Reid noted that Texas accepted disaster relief from the federal government last year to assist in the recovery from historic flooding.

“If a federal government response is necessary for natural disasters, shouldn’t the federal government help respond to these man-made disasters?” he said.

“I urge my colleagues, especially my Republican friends, to support the Stabenow-Peters amendment to give the people of Flint the relief they so desperately need.”

Reid said that, years ago, he chaired hearings of the Environment and Public Works Committee on lead poisoning — in that case, children who had ingested lead-based paint inside their housing developments.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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