Our Editorial: EPA must release emails

The Detroit News

As details about Flint’s water crisis continue to unfold, it’s critical the public gets the truth from all parties responsible. It will help Flint residents recover from the trauma, and it will help inform elected leaders how to prevent this kind of problem in the future.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency — whose inaction contributed to water contamination in Flint — must release any and all emails that relate to Flint’s water.

The agency prides itself on protecting the health of Americans against even the most global environmental threats, but it failed on the job with Flint.

The Region 5 office, which controls most of the Midwest, failed to sound a public alarm, choosing instead to work quietly with ineffective state and local officials.

A handful of EPA emails that have been made public, courtesy of Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher who sounded the alarm on Flint water in the first place, reveal the agency’s culpability. He obtained emails through a Freedom of Information request that reveal the EPA ignored — or, as Edwards said, buried — information from one of its own water experts showing Flint water was “a major concern” for public health.

The Region 5 chief Susan Hedman has since resigned over her inadequate response. But that doesn’t let the federal agency off the hook.

In a brazen act last week, the agency sent an order to the state of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to inventory all lead service lines in the city — of which there are an unknown number — and make a public website with the results of water samples from those lines. It’s unclear if a federal agency can legally make such demands of a state or a state agency, even though the state has said it will comply.

But the order illustrates the agency’s arrogance. It should have been having those conversations with the MDEQ almost a year ago.

Now, after the damage has been done, it wants control.

The EPA isn’t known for being forthcoming with information. But accountability and transparency are key to recovering from Flint’s disaster, and the EPA should be as forthcoming as Gov. Rick Snyder and others in the state.

The governor rightly released his emails last week.

The EPA should do the same.