Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Senate Democrats Issue|Call to Arms for Flint

WASHINGTON (CN) - Senate Democrats proposed $400 million in emergency federal funding on Thursday to help Flint, Mich., replace lead-contaminated pipes poisoning its citizens.

The proposal, which would amend a bipartisan energy bill currently undergoing Senate debate, will require Michigan to match the federal contribution, dollar for dollar.

"People in Flint need the dignity and respect they deserve, for knowing that clean water will come out of the faucet," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said at the Capitol on Thursday.

She added that "the people of Flint are counting on everybody to step up and do what we can."

Stabenow co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Gary Peters, a fellow Michigan Democrat. They emphasized that the proposal will not supplant the state's responsibility for the crisis.

"It's very clear that this is a state of Michigan problem," which "created this catastrophe," Peters said.

Only after Michigan ponies up the initial funds to help fix Flint's water infrastructure will the federal government step in.

The senators did not say if Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder had committed to matching the proposed federal emergency contribution.

Another provision of the four-part amendment requires the Environmental Protection Agency to come forward within 15 days of discovering contamination if state or local agencies withhold that information from the public.

"Unfortunately the EPA did not believe that they had the authority to actually go public with this," Peters said, speaking to an ambiguity in the Safe Drinking Water Act regarding state-level jurisdiction over water regulations that the agency believed restrained it from taking action.

The EPA has faced heavy fire for acting too slowly, even though agency officials had knowledge of high lead content in Flint's water.

"We will clarify the law," Peters said, giving the agency an additional level of accountability.

Storing up funds for Flint will help the city pay off interest and forgive loans it took from the state's Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund over a number of years.

Peters noted that this could free up $20 million in loan debt that Flint could invest in water infrastructure.

Flint's water has been undrinkable since a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city's water supply from Lake Huron to the heavily polluted Flint River as a cost-saving measure.

"They managed to save a few million, but at what cost?" asked Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Michigan officials refused to have corrosive water treated with chemicals that would prevent lead from leaching into the water supply.

"Let's make no mistake about this," Schumer said. "What we've seen in Flint, Michigan, is a man-made crisis, plain and simple."

"Thousands of young children have lead coursing through their veins," he added. "To what consequence? We know not good, for sure."

Since lead exposure has been known to impede brain development in children, Democrats are also proposing $200 million to establish a center that will study the effects of lead exposure, with a special focus on how children are impacted.

Though optimistic that the urgency of the crisis would garner bipartisan support, the band of Democratic senators remained tight-lipped about definite commitments from across the aisle in support of their proposal.

"The amendment provides the kinds of large resources that are desperately needed," Schumer said.

Peters noted that service lines diverting water from the main water line into people's homes pose the biggest challenge for Flint's residents, and will need to be replaced immediately. The $400 million proposed could cover that cost, he said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the Flint water crisis highlights the dangers of "a persistent and very well-funded campaign to deride and to degrade environmental protections - on virtually every front."

On the other side of those efforts "are American families, are the kids in Flint," Whitehouse said.

The Democratic proposal would send a message of solidarity to Flint, but also serves as a call to "rethink the relentless antagonism to environmental protections," he added.

Stabenow didn't hesitate when reporters asked if a predominantly white, upper-class city would have received a more expedient response to a similar crisis.

"I don't wonder at all," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Flint's water crisis is one two crises plaguing the quintessential rustbelt state.

As the Democrats made their push in Congress today, Michigan parents joined the American Federation of Teachers in filing suit against Detroit Public Schools over mold and other deplorable classroom conditions that have brought the city to its knees.

The lawsuit in Wayne County comes after a judge refused to block the "sickouts" Detroit teachers have used to close dozens of schools this month.

The teacher's union seeks to have emergency financial manager Darryl Earley ousted from Detroit Public Schools and have the agency returned to local control.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.