Dan Kildee – Statement to Congress on Flint Drinking Water Crisis
Statement to Congress on Contaminated Drinking Water in Flint, Michigan
delivered 3 February 2016, Washington, D.C.
First of all, thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing and for allowing me to make some comments on what’s happening in my hometown. And to the ranking member, Mr. Cummings, thank you for your support and your guidance and your — your allegiance to the people of the City of Flint. And to my colleague, Congresswoman Lawrence, with whom I’ve worked on this from the very beginning, I just want to say thanks for having my back and the back of the people of the City of Flint.
I will try to be brief. I know we have really the heroes of this story, some of them on the panel that I’m anxious to — to listen to but —
Flint’s my hometown. I grew up in Flint. I raised my children in Flint. When we leave here at the end of every week, I fly home to Flint. I’m a son of this town. And so it breaks my heart to see what’s happening. It breaks my heart not just because of what has been inflicted upon the people of Flint but because it was an entirely avoidable set of circumstances. Better action by people in government could have protected the people of Flint and those players failed.
And I appreciate the outrage that members of Congress, my colleagues, have expressed, and that outrage has come from both sides of the aisle. But my hope is that that outrage translates into something more than just sharing the misery of the people of Flint or sympathy for the people of Flint. But we need to provide help for the folks in Flint.
Flint’s a strong community. We have been through really tough times and we will get through this, too. But we have to have resources from the people who did this to Flint in order to create a path forward for the people, and especially for the children of my hometown. Right now, the water is still not yet safe to drink in Flint. High levels of lead continue to show up in testing.
The reason I’m here and the reason I wanted to make some comments is that I want to make sure that, as this committee pursues its — its responsibility, that we focus on the facts of this case and make sure that those guide the conclusions that we make.
It was mentioned that in Flint, we have had an emergency manager. That’s not just a small anecdote here. Emergency managers in Michigan have absolute authority over local governments. So when we talk about failure of government at every level, let’s just be clear about one point, one very important point: Every decision that was made for the City of Flint that relates to this crisis was made by a state appointed emergency manager.
So when referring to local decisions, there are some who are trying to obfuscate responsibility for this crisis by saying these were local decisions. They were local decisions made by a state emergency manager. The mayor of the city has no authority; the city council in Flint, zero authority to make any decisions. That’s an important point.
Making matters worse, the reason an emergency manager was required in Flint in the first place is largely because of obviously big factors over time, the loss of our manufacturing base, but at the same time the State of Michigan cut an essential element of city resources. It cut the money that goes to support cities from its budget. The city has a 50 million dollar general fund and over the last decade, 50 million dollars of direct revenue sharing from the state to the city was eliminated, throwing the city into a financial crisis precipitating the appointment by the state of an emergency manager to take over the city. The state that helped bankrupt the city is now sent in to try to take it over to get it right.
It was the state emergency manager that made the decision to switch the City of Flint to the Flint River water source. And it was the emergency manager who had 100% control of all departments of city government, including the department responsible for making sure that the water was properly treated. And that emergency manager failed.
Let me just show you one exhibit just so you have an understanding. These are facts. This is the order by the emergency manager to switch to the Flint River. And again, there’s a public relations campaign that’s underway right now to try to say these were local decisions, or, “No, it was actually the EPA” — to deflect responsibility from the State of Michigan. This was a decision by an emergency manager in Flint to go to the Flint River water source. It’s a critical decision that was made that precipitated this entire crisis.
So after that switch was made, citizens began to speak up. And in fact, one of them, LeeAnne Walters, is here and will be on the next panel. She’s one of the heroes of this story. And let me be clear: The heroes in the story of Flint are those who brought it to light — and they’re not public officials. They’re citizens. They’re activists. They’re people who would not be quiet. And LeeAnne Walters is one of them and you will hear from her. She went to the DEQ; ultimately, had to go to the EPA, as the chairman had indicated, to raise this question.
And what was the response of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality when these issues were raised? To try to discredit all the voices that were calling this problem to their attention, whether it was Dr. Mark Edwards from Virginia Tech, who you’ll hear from. The State of Michigan tried to discredit his research, a guy who spent, really, his career on clean water. [They] tried to discredit the citizens, as if they were just unhappy citizens. They had lead in their water. It was going to their children. Again, there’s an effort to try to create some false equivalency of responsibility.
I am critical of the EPA in this case, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I have legislation that I am introducing, that hopefully will be bipartisan, taken up soon. It would require much greater transparency by the EPA. I wish that as soon as the EPA discovered that there were problems with the water in Flint, that they would shout it from the mountaintop that there’s a problem in Flint. Instead, they kept insisting that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality do its job — which it failed to do.
One of the questions that has come up is, “Why didn’t the EPA insist that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality require the corrosion control to be used in Flint?” Well, there’s a document that I have in my hand which I’m submitting to you. It’s a memo from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to the…EPA, saying that — and this was dated February 27 of 2015, almost a year ago — indicating that Flint has an optimized corrosion control program.1 They did not.
So to hold the EPA accountable — I want to hold them accountable for transparency, but let’s make sure we get the facts right. It was the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality telling the EPA that they had this thing under control, that they were using corrosion control in Flint when they were not. I would have preferred the EPA had let me know, had let the community know that they had this data and let us force the DEQ to do its job. They didn’t and that’s their failure. But it is not their failure to not insist that a corrosion control process be implemented. They continued to ask and they were told it was under control when it was not.
So when this all became public — I know that one of the heroes of this story, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, she is a pediatrician in Flint. She began to look at blood levels in children. And it showed elevated blood lead levels in children in Flint. She released her data and what was the response of the State of Michigan? To try to discredit this pediatrician who has devoted her entire life to the health of children, just trying to do her job for the kids of Flint. There was a continuous effort to try to minimize this problem as if it did not exist.
There’s a lot of questions about who knew what and when, and that’s really an important part of this. We have an email from the chief of staff [Dennis Muchmore] in the governor’s office back in July of 2015 raising this question and saying that, he thought that basically the people in Flint were getting blown — blown off by the state.2 So they knew about this back then and failed to act.
So let me just conclude by saying a couple of things. I am really concerned that we get to the facts on this not just because I want to know who should be fired, who should be subpoenaed, who should be blamed, who should be prosecuted, justice comes in those forms for sure. But justice for the people of Flint comes by making it right for the people of Flint. And the only way we can make it right is to make sure we know who did this and for anybody who has been paying attention to this case back home in Michigan, there is really no doubt about who is responsible.
The State of Michigan was responsible as the ranking members said, has primacy for the enforcement of the Lead and Copper Rule. The State of Michigan was running the City of Flint itself at the time that these decisions were made and the State of Michigan denied to the citizens of the state and to the citizens of Flint that this was a problem. At one point, a state official after the lead data had already been made known to them told people in Flint that they should just relax. Nine thousand children of Flint with water with elevated lead levels going to their bodies, relax?
Yes, this is a failure of government. But this false equivalency is somehow local officials who had no power and the EPA who I agree should have done more should be held accountable for this, misses the point. This was a state failure and you will hear from folks today and the current head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, whom I know. He is a good man. He was not in the position at that time these decisions were made and cannot really testify to what happened then in real time. We were there. LeeAnne Walters was there. Mark Edwards was there. Dr. Mona was there. The people of Flint knew what was happening.
So the state, to my point of view, from my perspective, has a moral responsibility not to just apologize. The governor has already apologized. In his state of the state he said, he acknowledged responsibility. With the way I was raised is that when you do something wrong to someone, something that has a consequence, you do apologize for sure. But also if you have it in your power to make it right for that person, to make it right for those people, you have to stand up and do that.
So far, we haven’t seen that. We need the pipes fixed in Flint. In fact, the governor should write a check tomorrow for the 60 million dollars that the mayor of Flint has asked for to replace the lead service lines. He is sitting on a billion dollar surplus. He should ask for that money tomorrow and then should commit to not just fix the infrastructure but to make it right for these kids. Give them the kind of help that any child with a developmental hurl to overcome should get, early childhood education, good nutrition, lots of support, behavioral support. Not just now, not just next year but for the entire trajectory of their developmental cycle.
This is a tragedy. It cannot be fixed but those who did this to Flint can stand up and make it right and I would ask this committee to do everything within your power to find the facts and if you do, and if you let those facts lead you to the conclusion that they should, we will find that the State of Michigan bears the responsibility to the greatest extent. And they should be held to account, but they also should be held to make it right.
Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)
1 The key line in the email memo sent from the DEQ to the EPA: “The City of Flint…’Has an Optimized Corrosion Control Program’ [and] ‘Conducts quarterly Water Quality Parameter monitoring at 25 sites and has not had any unusual results.’” [Source: FlintWaterStudy.org]
2 Email content sent from Dennis Muchmore to Nick Lyon, 22 July 2015: “I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint. I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the led level studies they are receiving from the DEQ samples. Can you take a moment out of your impossible schedule to personally take a look at this? These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight). [Source: FlintWaterStudy.org, emphasis added]
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