Failure of Government – at all Levels

Why in the world would we want “more government” to solve our problems?????
WSJ 1/21/2016

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder apologized Tuesday for the contaminated water crisis in Flint, and rightly so. Hillary Clinton and most of the media are peddling this as a parable of Republican neglect of a poor black city. But the real Flint story is a cascade of government failure, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

An auto factory town some 65 miles from Detroit, Flint has been under emergency management since 2011 after decades of misrule: More than 40% of residents live in poverty; the population has fallen by half since the 1960s to about 100,000. Bloated pensions and retiree health care gobble up about 33 cents of every dollar in the general fund.

This grim financial reality explains why in 2013 the city sought to save millions by switching water sources, dropping expensive, treated aqua routed through Detroit. Flint’s then-emergency manager Ed Kurtz agreed to join a new authority that would pipe water from Lake Huron. The next day Detroit said it would kick Flint off its water contract in a year, well before the new pipeline was finished. In the interim the city decided to slurp up the Flint River, not known for cerulean clarity. For months residents complained about murky water, but local officials offered assurances.

The folks running Flint and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) apparently had no idea how to pump water through Flint’s rickety pipes—and thus corroded metal leached into the water supply. A federal Lead and Copper Rule stipulates that sprawling public water systems must control corrosion. Flint and MDEQ weren’t handling this properly, if at all, as emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards reveal. Mr. Edwards told MDEQ in August of last year that he intended to study Flint’s water and he turned up lead leaching in September. MDEQ initially dismissed his findings.

If there were ever a moment for federal action, this would seem to be it. MDEQ and the EPA were chatting about Flint’s system as early as February. MDEQ said it wanted to test the water more before deciding on corrosion controls, though it isn’t clear that federal law allows this. In a May email to the EPA, a MDEQ staffer said that requiring a corrosion study “will be of little to no value” because, hey, we’re heading to Lake Huron any day now. EPA did not intervene. EPA Region 5 water expert Miguel Del Toral worked up an internal memo in June flagging the lack of corrosion control as “a major concern” for public health. He further noted that Flint’s testing might be producing misleading results, as the city told residents to flush toilets before collecting a sample, which can wash away lead. If contaminated water had flowed somewhere inhabited by a manatee, the feds would have sped to Michigan.

But here’s how the region’s top EPA official, political appointee Susan Hedman, responded in a July 1 email to Flint’s Mayor Dayne Walling, after Mr. Del Toral’s memo was leaked: “When the report has been revised and fully vetted by EPA management, the findings and recommendations will be shared with the City and MDEQ and MDEQ will be responsible for following up with the City.” She also noted over email that it’s “a preliminary draft” and it’d be “premature to draw any conclusions.” The EPA did not notify the public. This report rotted and wasn’t released for months while tawny, infected water ran from faucets across Flint.

None of this exonerates Governor Snyder, but at least he sacked people at MDEQ in December, including the director. Ms. Hedman still works at the EPA, which now says that “necessary actions were not taken as quickly as they should have been,” and no kidding. On Wednesday afternoon Mr. Snyder released his emails pertaining to the crisis, a good move for ensuring that all involved are held accountable.

Flint switched back to Detroit’s water in October, but the pipes had already been damaged. The water in Flint still isn’t safe to drink, and President Obama has declared a state of emergency. Mr. Snyder asked the legislature for $28 million to send to Flint, though there’s no quick fix for an infrastructure problem.

The broader lesson is that ladling on layers of bureaucracy doesn’t result in better oversight and safety. It sometimes lets agencies shirk responsibility for the basic public services like clean water that government is responsible for providing.

The real scandal is government failure— local, state and federal.


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