Michigan questions legality of EPA directive on Flint

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The state of Michigan responded Friday to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency directive to address “serious and ongoing concerns” with Flint’s drinking water by questioning whether the federal order is even legal.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh, in a Friday letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, disputed whether the EPA “has the legal authority” to require a state to take the actions outlined in the order, saying the state would share those concerns by letter or in person.

Creagh also said the order was filled with “factual omissions and legal errors.”

Flint water crisis

Besides an order, McCarthy addressed a letter Thursday to Gov. Rick Snyder and laid out specific steps for the state of Michigan to get Flint’s lead contamination problems under control. She expressed concern over “continuing delays and lack of transparency” and directed the state to notify the EPA within a day of the state’s intent to comply.

In his response letter, the DEQ director emphasized that the state is willing to work with the EPA and Flint to solve the city’s lead-contaminated water, but it already has met all EPA demands.

“...To our knowledge, the State has complied with every recent demand made by the USEPA,” Creagh wrote.

The DEQ director complained that the EPA failed to note the tens of millions of dollars the state is spending or plans to spend for water filters, drinking water, testing and medical services.

The Michigan Legislature is fast-tracking a $28 million supplemental funding bill for water, medical, nutritional and education services for Flint that the Senate could approve and get to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk as early as Tuesday.

The state said Thursday water response teams had canvassed the entire city since beginning door-to-door distribution efforts earlier this month. Teams had visited 30,770 homes and distributed more than 105,091 cases of water, 79,571 filters and 21,625 testing kits, according to state officials.

Creagh said he “would welcome” McCarthy’s consulting with the state on “the correctness of the information on which the (order) is based and to ascertain the action which such authorities are or will be taking.”

McCarthy, in Thursday’s letter to Snyder, referenced recent leadership changes at DEQ and said it was imperative that state and federal teams set up a meeting by next week. Former DEQ Director Dan Wyant resigned in late December.

The EPA on Thursday invoked its authority to compel action when “an immediate and substantial endangerment exists” and “local authorities are inadequate to protect public health.”

The agency’s 18-page order directed the state to fully implement task force recommendations and ensure the city has the necessary professional assistance to operate its water system safely.

“EPA has determined that the City of Flint’s and the State of Michigan’s responses to the drinking water crisis in Flint have been inadequate to protect the public health and that these failures continue,” the order read.

“As you and I discussed, some progress has been made in addressing these recommendations, but there continues to be inadequate transparency and accountability with regard to provision of test results and actions taken, and those are critical for the people of Flint,” McCarthy wrote Snyder. “In addition, there is an increasing concern about the capacity to carry out the recommended actions and to safely manage Flint’s drinking water system.”