Embattled Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday he takes responsibility for the Flint water crisis, but shouldered the blame on “career civil service people” who didn’t use common sense.
High levels of poisonous lead have been detected in Flint’s water since April 2014, when the city began drawing from the Flint River instead of the Detroit municipal system to save money. Snyder and other government agencies have come under fire for downplaying the issue while it worsened.
Appearing live on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Snyder said decision-makers at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality “were not being given the right information by the quote-unquote experts.”
“What is so frustrating and makes you so angry about this situation is you have a handful of quote-unquote experts that were career civil service people that made terrible decisions, in my view,” Snyder said.
The second-term governor blamed bureaucracy for the public health failure.
“That’s part of the problem here,” Snyder said. “We actually had outside experts raising the question that people in two of our departments didn’t see the issue. They actually came back and said, ‘We don’t agree with them. We believe we’re OK with respect to lead.’
“These are career civil servants. They had strong science, medical backgrounds in terms of their research. But as a practical matter, when you look at it today and you look at their conclusions, I wouldn’t call them experts anymore.”
For the last year and half, some children in Flint have tested positive for lead in their blood, but Snyder said it wasn’t until the end of September 2015 that he learned information about the safety of the water was inaccurate.
“There were major failures here,” the governor said. “And if you look at it, it was people being much too technical, not having the culture of asking the common-sense questions, and then the tone of how things were done. So there are a number of failures there that, these people, this was a terrible tragedy that these people worked for me, and that’s why it was important to accept responsibility. And my focus is on fixing this problem and I’ve been focused on that very diligently since last October.”
Anchor Mika Brzezinski asked the governor about a New York Times editorial that wonders if the Michigan state government would have responded more quickly if impoverished Flint were rich and mostly white.
“Is this a case of environmental racism?” asked Brzezinski, reading from the editorial.
“Absolutely not,” said Snyder, noting a number of public programs that his administration has pushed. “Flint is a place I’ve been devoted to helping.”
Earlier this week, Snyder released 274 pages of emails from 2014 and 2015 that show the debate over the blame for the contamination crisis. Snyder said he hoped turning over all his emails would offer some transparency about how the disaster evolved.
But the Detroit Free Press reports that a state legislator and former Flint City Council member allege Snyder has misled the public by not releasing all the emails about the water crisis, including one sent by the representative a year ago saying “the city of Flint stands on the precipice of civil unrest” over the lack of clean drinking water.
On Thursday, a regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency resigned in connection with the controversy and the head of the EPA issued an emergency order directing state and city officials to take actions to protect public health. Snyder and other officials will be called to testify next month at a congressional panel about the crisis over lead-contaminated water.
MSNBC correspondent Tom Brokaw asked Snyder what he’s going to do avoid another public health catastrophe.
“I want to bring in third-party experts because, again, this was a violation of the people of Flint and the people of the state of Michigan,” he said. “So this is something that we don’t consider just what one person did. Let’s look at the entire cultural background of how people have been operating. Let’s get in there and rebuild the culture that understands common sense has to be part of it, taking care of our citizens needs to be part of it. That’s paramount importance when you’re talking about the safety of our citizens.”
Jason Sickles is a national reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).