Authors Note: After this article went to press this morning Congress reached a compromise and decided to include Flint in the funding for the House's Water Resources Development Act reauthorization up through December.
Here is a link to what transpired: http://www.npr.org/2016/09/28/495778339/congress-reaches-agreement-to-fund-government-until-december?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20160928
According to a report this morning in Environment & Energy Daily, the White House last night did not quite issue a veto threat against the House's Water Resources Development Act reauthorization, but did urge lawmakers to beef up the bill, including aid to Flint for addressing the Flint Water Crisis.
The debate over whether or how to help the city recover from its drinking-water lead crisis is not only coloring the debate over WRDA, but also holding up legislation to keep the government funded past this week. The next several days may prove pivotal in settling the months long impasse.
The House Rules Committee yesterday made 25 amendments to the House WRDA bill, H.R. 5303, for floor debate this week out of more than 100 proposals. Not on the list was one from Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) to provide $220 million for Flint and other cities struggling with lead contamination.
The Senate passed its version of WRDA, S. 2848, with such a provision earlier this month. Kildee introduced an amendment to H.R. 5303, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016, to include $100 million in fully paid funding directly targeted for water infrastructure in Flint, which earlier this year in January Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appealed to Washington to address in their appropriations.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan previously said that WRDA was the appropriate vehicle to address the Flint water crisis. But this week House Republicans denied Congressman Kildee’s amendment to the WRDA bill to send help to Flint families.
At a press conference yesterday, which The Review received transcripts of this morning, Kildee issued the following statement:
“House Republicans’ duplicity - saying that WRDA was the vehicle to help Flint and then blocking Flint aid’s inclusion – is unacceptable. Speaker Ryan said this conversation should take place in WRDA. Apparently his definition of a conversation is: ‘No. Nothing for Flint.”
“I want the families in Flint to get help from their government in any form possible; and this just makes including Flint aid in the continuing resolution even more critical. There are no more excuses. Congress needs to turn sympathy into action.”
Congressman Kildee’s amendment is the fully paid for provision that was included in the Senate version of WRDA that passed by a vote of 95 to 3. The amendment would provide $100 million to repair drinking water infrastructure; funding to activate over $1 billion in low-interest loans to upgrade water infrastructure in communities in Michigan and across the country; $50 million to prevent child exposure to lead; authority for the state of Michigan to forgive $22 million in past drinking water loans to Flint; and a requirement that EPA warn the public within 15 days of high lead levels in drinking water if a state fails to do so.
“A brief civics lesson for some of our colleagues in Congress: the city of Flint is in the United States of America," Kildee added. "They are Americans. We come together for one another when we are in crisis. One of the first votes I cast when I came here was to support the people who were suffering as a result of Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of miles from my district. I was proud to support those folks because they are Americans and they needed us. The same is true for the people of Flint.”
“To see some in Congress treat Flint in the same manner that caused this crisis in the first place is too much for me to take,” states Kildee. “When we see a spending bill, which clearly provides help for people facing a crisis exclude Flint, the message to the people in Flint is loud and clear - you don't matter. That's what they hear; they hear that they don't matter. We are here to say they do. We are going to use every tool we have to make sure they get the help that they deserve.”
“It is difficult for me to accept logic that goes like this: when we are debating the continuing resolution Republican leadership says this really belongs in a different bill, talk about it in the continuing resolution. When we are debating the continuing resolution they say, this really is a water resources bill, it should be in WRDA. They can't have it both ways.”
“I went to the Rules Committee last night with an amendment, it took the precise language that Senator Peters and Senator Stabenow insisted be included in the Senate WRDA bill and it passed 95 to 3. I took that same language to the Rules Committee and the message was, ‘Mr. Kildee not so fast.’
“What message does that send to the people of Flint? What are we supposed to take from that? So I will say this, it is my position and position of growing numbers of members of the House that we will not support a continuing resolution that does not include Flint.”
“So the question that Speaker Ryan has to answer and others who are blocking this, is why are they willing to take us to the point of shutting down the government of the United States in order to prevent people from getting help in Flint that is already paid for? It has a pay for included in it. It makes no sense at all.”
“We are not going to tolerate this. We are standing strong.”
On the Republican side, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) warned against including Flint funds in a bill traditionally reserved for massive water projects. "There are many water systems in the country in cities much bigger than Flint that have neglected their infrastructure," said Shuster. "It really comes down to the local and state governments to resolve those problems."
But WRDA is exactly where Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says the Flint money should go.
McCarthy told reporters that House passage of WRDA would allow the two chambers to go to conference to reconcile their versions. He suggested Flint aid would be among the issues considered. "It fits perfectly," McCarthy said. "We moved WRDA up [on the calendar] in our commitment to try to get this all done and try to get it to conference as soon as we can."
McCarthy, however, declined to promise that the House would eventually support WRDA legislation with Flint funding. He noted that some GOP proposals to aid the city were included in the chamber's Interior Department and U.S. EPA spending bill.
"We are going to deal with Flint, and it's inside the Senate WRDA bill," he said. "We've already put some portions, some elements, inside our Interior [bill], so we're going to deal with Flint,” he said.
Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, who often bucks his party, gave his full support to including aid for Flint in either the CR or WRDA, echoing the White House. "It needs to happen," he said. "To miss an opportunity here would be a huge mistake."
In March 2014, the city of Flint began sourcing its water from the Flint River, a decision that would have ostensibly saved the city $5 million over two years, at the behest of state-appointed Emergency Manager & former Saginaw City Manager Darnell Earley. Soon after the switch, residents began complaining of water with a rank smell and taste, and samples tested in coming months were found to contain fecal coliform bacteria, trihalomethanes (a disinfection product), and high levels of lead. The latter has been found in the bloodstreams of Flint’s children and infants.
Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency on December 15, but evidence indicates that officials in Snyder’s administration not only acknowledged the severity of crisis in Flint for months prior – they tried to cover it up.
Last September, the ACLU found that officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality manipulated lead tests from Flint so as not to attract the ire of the Environmental Protection Agency. And emails sent last July by Snyder’s Chief of Staff, Dennis Muchmore, revealed that the administration was aware of the severity of the crisis months before it decided to switch Flint’s water source back to Detroit.
One big question, however, that keeps getting asked is why did the city of Flint, which was under Emergency Management at the time, elect to switch its water source from Lake Huron (vis-à-vis the Detroit Water and Sewer Department) to the notoriously vile Flint River?
The answer getting the most press has to do with austerity. The basic narrative runs like this: DWSD was really costly and so Flint decided to switch to the Karegnondi Water Authority under the premise the it would be cheaper. KWA, however, would not be ready for a few years, which is why Flint turned to the less desirable Flint River.
Emails have revealed, however, that the plan to move was in no way was about saving Flint money. After Flint announced that it was planning to switch water sources to KWA, Detroit countered saying that it could offer Flint a deal (actually it offered six different deals) but essentially Detroit could offer Flint a 50 percent reduction in what it had previously been paying DWSD.
Now here's the puzzling part that throws a wrench into the whole cost-reduction narrative: The Detroit deal would have been cheaper than the KWA deal. As then DWSD Director Sue McCormick wrote in a April 15, 2013 email: "When compared over the 30 year horizon the DWSD proposal saves $800 million dollars or said differently – saves 20% over the KWA proposal."
So throughout this whole manufactured mess the million dollar questions is why would Snyder’s Administration make such a move and claim the switch was precipitated by cost savings when it was not? The online investigative publication Motor City Muckraker that uncovered this component of the crisis, which has been severely under-reported in the mainstream media, offers two suggestions of what was really behind this ultimately toxic — and not so cost-effective — move: Snyder's desire to privatize and break up DSWD; or maybe Snyder's goal of opening up fracking opportunities around the new KWA pipeline.
Snyder’s top donors through July 2014 included CMS Energy, DTE Energy, and out-of-state billionaire David Koch.