Michigan Will Charge Former Governor Rick Snyder For Role In Flint Water Scandal
The Associated Press reported that former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and others will be charged for the Flint water scandal.
January 13, 2021 at 8:11 pm
State officials are planning to charge former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, former Health Department Director Nick Lyon and others who were part of his administration for their role in the Flint water contamination scandal, which led to a disastrous outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease and forced a Black town to live with lead-infected water for years, according to The Associated Press.
The case caused global outrage because of the callousness of the former Republican governor and state officials, who intentionally changed the source of the water supply for the town of Flint, Michigan, from the treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department that came from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River, which they knew would lead to water contaminated with lead.
The town's 100,000 mostly Black residents were exposed to water with abnormally high lead levels for months and 12 people died from the Legionnaires' outbreak that resulted from the decision to switch the water source. Those who ingested the lead-infected water are still dealing with the health and developmental defects associated with prolonged lead exposure, as Blavity previously reported.
State officials wanted to save money due to the fallout from the 2008 recession and knew the water was untreated but switched the source anyway in 2013. The unfiltered water destroyed Flint's pipes and allowed lead to seep into the water system, as Blavity previously reported.
Black residents of Flint knew the decision was a bad idea and protested it but state officials moved forward with the decision knowing it would lead to elevated lead levels in the local water. State investigations and reports from VICE News show Snyder and senior officials were repeatedly told what would happen if they made the switch but they did it anyway and then sought to cover it up.
Up until 2019, Snyder sought to pay off witnesses and downplay his role in the scandal.
An 80-page report from the University of Michigan's School of Public Health said that after scouring reports and emails from October 2014, "the governor's staff was sufficiently aware...that several top aides were arguing that Flint should return to using water from (the city of Detroit)."
"The governor had adequate legal authority to intervene -- by demanding more information from agency directors, reorganizing agencies to assure the availability of appropriate expertise where needed, ordering state agencies to respond, or ultimately, firing ineffective agency heads -- but he abjured, either due to ignorance or willful neglect of duty," the report said. "Flint residents' complaints were not hidden from the governor, and he had a responsibility to listen and respond."
Snyder was hauled in front of Congress but lied repeatedly about his role in the crisis.
The problem took years to fix and many of the town's residents are still dealing with the fallout from the decision. The state agreed to pay a settlement of $641 million to the city's residents who were affected in November.
Anonymous sources with the attorney general’s office told The Associated Press that Snyder and his officials will be indicted soon but did not say what charges they will face.
Snyder left office in disgrace in 2019 but has been allowed to rehabilitate himself in recent years thanks to media outlets like CNN, which have let him commentate on politics without pressing him on his role in the disaster.
The Flint water scandal ended up becoming one of the defining events of the administration of President Barack Obama and came to become a stark representation of how state and local governments not only failed their Black residents but went out of their way to harm their Black constituents in order to save money.
Black families dealing with lead poisoning will face lifelong consequences due to the actions of Snyder and other state officials. Extended exposure to lead leads to life-long learning and behavior issues as well as other health defects related to the nervous system and brain.
The consequences of the scandal also became a stark example of the environmental racism Black Americans have often faced in the United States thanks to specific decisions taken by elected leaders.
There has also been a longstanding controversy on the lack of consequences for the scandal for Snyder, Lyon and other officials who knew what would happen by switching the town's water source. A special prosecutor charged Lyon with involuntary manslaughter in 2018 but the charges were withdrawn in 2019 and the investigation was restarted despite millions being spent on it already.
The incident has become a sore spot for Black communities, who often note the cruel irony of their water being poisoned while a Black president was in office.
Snyder received significant praise from news outlets for his opposition to President Donald Trump but has never apologized for his actions in Flint. His lawyer slammed the charges in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday.
“Rather than following the evidence to find the truth, the Office of Special Counsel appears to be targeting former Gov. Snyder in a political escapade,” Snyder's lawyer Brian Lennon said.