Pure drinking water


In all the political arguments about government – its size and purviews – there is one uncontestable axiom: government’s first obligation is to supply security including access to pure drinking water. It comes as a profound shock that one of our state governments, among the richest and most sophisticated, Michigan, has apparently not only failed to achieve this goal but allegedly was aware that its cost-cutting and other measures were responsible. It’s a scandal generally associated with the most impoverished and corrupt of third world countries, not an American state and federal government.
As always in such disputes, the facts are contradictory and disputed. But a series of lawsuits – the latest is a class action lawsuit under RICO, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act – ought to help us get at the truth and with such publicity that equally guilty government organizations around the country will pull up their socks. The suit like most of the others names Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and another dozen officials on behalf of hundreds of residents who were poisoned by the city’s 2014 switch to the toxic and corrosive Flint River as a source of its water. Mayor Karen Weaver says that she has no intention of suing at present but wants to keep the option available. The lawsuit names mostly state and city officials whom it charges played a role in charging citizens of Flint, Michigan, high rates for poisoned drinking water that they claimed was safe.
Of course, their innocence is to be assumed until they are proved guilty in a series of other trials. What is most interesting and curious to us, however, is that the accusations are that Snyder claimed he was complying with federal standards. “[t]hese acts were done in order to prevent the irate citizens of the City of Flint from knowing that the money cost-cutting plan to balance the budget and alleviate the City’s Financial Emergency was to give them toxic water for two years,” the suit charges.
Although the federal Environment: Protection Agency is barely mentioned in the indictment – it does include Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Director Susan Hedman as a defendant – we are puzzled by the accusations against the federal government in the whole schmoozle. The air recently has been full of accusations, some of them seemingly authentic, that the EPA has been exceeding its authority. So where were they in what is said to be this obvious case of flouting of the most fundamental sanitary regulations? Even more exasperating is the charge that Andy Dillon, the Democratic State Treasurer, approved a yet-to-be-built pipeline even though a report he commissioned in early 2013 recommended against the switch from previous water sources to the river heavily loaded with lead. It gets worse. Flint, as Detroit, was in the hands of a state “receiver” trying to prop up their crippled finances. So the oversight ought to have been at the state as well as the federal as well as the local level. Dillon also was the architect of Flint’s emergency manager law. This law gave the state authority to impose emergency managers to dictate to both Flint [and Detroit].
Given all these complexities, it is clear that the trials which will presumably come out of the other suits that have been filed, will be long, tedious, and perhaps difficult for the media to follow. But we hope they will. The issue of proper drinking water is now beginning to pop up around the country . And, as we started off by saying, this is a fundamental obligation and responsibility of local, state and federal government that is universal, apolitical, and absolutely essential to our daily lives.
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