NYT editorial: Snyder failed to protect Flint

The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder was derelict in his duty to protect Flint residents affected by the water crisis, the New York Times wrote in its editorial on Friday.

“The damage to the nearly bankrupt city and its nearly 100,000 residents by lead-tainted water caused by corrosion in the pipes has yet to be totaled,” the Grey Lady wrote, “but there is no doubt that the state has a moral obligation to provide clean water immediately for the citizens and to devise a long-term solution, no matter how costly.”

The Times’ editorial comes the same day Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that he would be probing the water situation in Flint. It also comes a day after Snyder asked the Obama administration to declare a federal emergency in Flint, a request Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said the agency is “reviewing as expeditiously as possible.”

Who in Snyder’s administration knew of the problem, what they knew, and when, are of interest to those alarmed by how a large city in a state surrounded by 20 percent of the world’s freshwater has had such trouble delivering it to residents.

After Schuette announced his probe, Michigan Democratic Party chair Brandon Dillon called the objectivity of the attorney general, a Republican, into question, and asked for an independent investigator to handle the matter.

“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,” Dillon said. “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.”

“Flint’s problems,” the Times wrote “can be traced to a disastrous decision in 2014 to use water from the Flint River as the city’s primary source of water for a year or two,” going away from the Detroit water system. “But in an effort to save money, the City Council, in 2013, approved joining a cheaper regional water system that was then still under construction. In the meantime, the city decided to draw its water from the Flint River. The critical decision not to add chemicals to prevent corrosion of the pipes that deliver water to homes and businesses,” which was made by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ’s director at the time, Dan Wyant, resigned late last year.

“Whatever fix is required, the buck clearly stops with him,” the Times wrote. “This disaster occurred on his watch and he has to find the money, either within the state budget, from private sources or by begging for a handout from the federal government.”

The estimated cost of the fix? $1.5 billion, according to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, a Democrat. This week, Snyder urged Flint’s Receivership Transition Advisory Board — each community gets such a board when returning to local control from emergency management, even though the law does not require them — to restore Weaver to full power.

“Mayor Weaver has requested that the powers and authority currently vested in the city administrator be transferred to the mayor,” Snyder said. I agree with her, and have asked the Receivership Transition Advisory Board to support that resolution.”

Snyder’s position, throughout the crisis, is that his administration has acted immediately when problems have come up. Snyder has expressed regret for the way things have been handled, but has urged problem-solving rather than finger-pointing as solutions are pursued.

“Obviously in retrospect, there’s always opportunities you wish you could go back and do things,” Snyder said. “We have to deal with the circumstances we have today. This is something none of us wish would have happened.”