Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder |

Hundreds protest at Michigan capitol as governor lays out Flint plan

LANSING, Mich. - Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Michigan state capitol building Tuesday as Gov. Rick Snyder gave his account of how officials mishandled evidence of lead in the water supply of the city of Flint.

The governor laid most of the blame for the water crisis on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), which he said his office “proactively” checked on in July. He said the department reported then that elevated blood levels of lead followed “normal seasonal patterns.”

“The government failed you – federal, state and local leaders,” Snyder said in his speech. “You deserve better – you deserve accountability.”

Former MDEQ head Dan Wyant resigned in late December.

Nic Clark, Michigan director for Clean Water Action, a liberal "public interest group," told AMI Newswire in an interview prior to the speech that there was “plenty of blame” to go around for the crisis, but that Snyder needed to come clean about “what he knew and when he knew it.”

“What’s clear is that MDEQ dropped the ball, but that Gov. Snyder is culpable,” Clark said.

Clark was among what he estimated to be nearly 1,000 protesters outside of the capitol, and said those gathered were chanting “we want clean water” in the hours before the governor’s annual speech.

Earlier Tuesday, officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency defended their own actions, telling AMI Newswire that the organization “repeatedly and urgently” reached out to authorities as to the problems with the water system and the risks they posed to the public.

“EPA's ability to oversee MDEQ’s management of that situation was impacted by failures and resistance at the state and local levels to work with us in a forthright, transparent and proactive manner,” the agency said in the statement.

Snyder pledged in his speech that on Jan. 20 he would release all emails from his office between 2014 and 2015 relating to the Flint disaster through his state website, michigan.gov/snyder. 

On Jan. 16, President Obama approved a request from Snyder to declare a federal emergency in Flint, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to begin assisting in solving the crisis in the city. However, the President denied a request to declare the city a “disaster” area, noting that the crisis was man-made, and not the kind of natural disaster that warrants such a declaration.

Snyder said on Monday that he would appeal that decision.

Meanwhile, Snyder said in his speech that he was calling on the Michigan legislature to authorize an additional $28 million from state coffers be dedicated to lead testing, water filters, water tests and more to help mitigate the impact of the crisis.

The issues began when the Flint City Council voted to disconnect from the Detroit water system and begin treating its own water from the Flint River.

“The situation in Flint – of a large system switching from purchasing treated water to untreated water – is highly unusual,” the EPA said to AMI Newswire in an email.

Meanwhile, Clark, from Clean Water Action, remained critical of the governor’s actions, stating that the Flint issue was just one in a list of environmental shortcomings from his office.

“This is nothing new from this administration – their leadership failure on the Enbridge oil pipeline, on renewable energy and curbing climate change emissions,” Clark told AMI Newswire. “And then now here’s a tragic example of why it’s so important that we take our drinking water and environmental law seriously.”