Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been called to testify on the Flint water crisis before a House oversight committee at a hearing to be held March 17, the committee has announced.
Snyder had not been among the witnesses called for a previous hearing held by the panel February 3, though more than one committee member expressed a desire to interview the Republican governor. In his State of the State address on January 19, Snyder claimed “full responsibility” for the disaster but then went on the attack, pointing the finger of blame at the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their role in the poisoning of Flint residents’ drinking water with lead.
In April of 2014, then-emergency manager Darnell Earley, with the support of the Snyder administration, switched Flint’s water source from Detroit-treated Lake Huron water to the Flint River, a water flow highly polluted from decades of receiving General Motors’ industrial waste. As soon as the switch was made, residents began complaining to city officials about the foul-smelling, foul-tasting brown water flowing from their taps, but they were assured repeatedly of the water’s safety. However, when a Flint pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, began to suspect lead poisoning in some of her young patients, she discovered drastically high blood-lead levels.
Lead had been leaching into the water of Flint homes with lead service pipes because of the highly corrosive character of the water drawn from the Flint River. Lead is a toxin that causes irreversible brain and nerve damage in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no safe level of lead ingestion for humans. Once Hanna-Attisha broke the story of the contaminated water, state and federal agencies began to blame each other for the crisis.
As facts came out, it was learned that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality had lied to a scientist with the EPA, Miguel Del Toral, by stating that Flint had in place state-of-the-art corrosion control equipment. When Del Toral uncovered the lie and took his information to his superiors, he was first told to drop the matter and was later vilified by his superiors. As became clear in the first House hearing on the matter, there is plenty of blame to be shared among all levels of government. That includes Governor Snyder.
It is Snyder who appointed Earley, a Democrat, to the position of emergency manager. And Snyder’s Secretary of Treasury, Andy Dillon, signed off on the plan to change Flint’s water source. More than this, Snyder has in his tenure as governor overseen a broad plan to shift Michiganders’ tax money to private entities, from privatizing prisons to pushing charter schools.
In addition to the water fiasco in Flint, apparently the result of an attempt to save $5 million over two years, sending the savings to Flint’s Wall Street creditors, Snyder’s agenda is on display in Detroit. That city too was stripped of democracy and saddled with an emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, who helped Snyder bring about the nation’s first municipal bankruptcy of a major city, the primary aim of which appears to have been the unconstitutional looting of city employees’ pensions.
A congressional hearing is not a trial, and it is to be remembered that the same corporate and banking interests that Snyder serves also have the run of Congress. When the powerful have outraged the public—be it Goldman Sachs, General Motors, the National Security Agency, or a state governor—bringing them before Congress provides an emotional catharsis, as viewers are able to see incensed congresspeople rail against the villains. Unfortunately, after a couple of uncomfortable hours, the villains are free to go, all their crimes still on their heads.
So it will be when Snyder appears before the panel. He will be questioned, he will be scolded by grandstanding politicians, he may even be yelled at. But then he will return to Lansing, free to continue his plunder of Michigan’s most vulnerable. And the children of Flint–those permanently damaged, those for whom the politicians will have raised their voices—those children will not see justice done.