Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A sign from a 2011 protest in Lansing against emergency managers.  (Photo: swskeptic/flickr/cc)

Congressman: 'Obsession With Austerity' Triggered Flint Water Crisis

'An obsession around governmental really dangerous and that's really the lesson we had all better learn really fast'

Andrea Germanos

The congressman who represents Flint, Michigan has lambasted what he says is at the heart of his city's water crisis: austerity.

Speaking at the White House Water Summit, which took place Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D) said, "I think the story of Flint, in part, is a story about water infrastructure. Because when we have aging infrastructure, particularly in Flint with so many lead service lines, we are at risk."

"But, the other part of the story, which is really the trigger to the crisis in Flint, is a story about the effect or the consequence of a brand of governmental austerity that is really dangerous," the Flint native continued.

"That backdrop [of aging infrastructure], with the overlay of governmental austerity that minimizes the need for robust enforcement of environmental protection, by essentially making it a second almost afterthought at the state level, and essentially defunding direct support for the city itself, created a series of almost unbelievable decisions to go from using the Great Lakes—the greatest surface fresh water source on the planet, which is only a few miles away from Flint, to the Flint river as a temporary water source, untreated," he said.

"It is almost unbelievable that that could happen, but it's this obsession with austerity," Kildee declared. "And the result... is astronomically higher than the cost associated with preventing it in the first place."

Kildee said a bill he introduced to fix the problem over the next ten years places the figure at "a billion and a half dollars," but qualified by saying, "Simply replacing all the private lead service lines is about a $55 million equation." That's a far higher amount than it would have taken to prevent the probe, he noted. "Simply providing phosphate treatment to the river water was about a $100 a day."

There's a cautionary tale to take from Flint, he warned, saying that "an obsession around governmental really dangerous and that's really the lesson we had all better learn really fast."

Kildee is not the first to make the connection between the lead contamination in Flint's water and austerity. Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, for example, previously wrote, "Flint has become a nightmarish example of how misguided austerity policies can literally poison the public."

And Lonnie Scott, executive director of advocacy group Progress Michigan, similarly said, "The source of the Flint Water Crisis leads directly to Gov. Rick Snyder and the fiscal austerity policies that he and his Republican colleagues have been pushing for years on Michigan residents."

Calls for Snyder to resign have continued as the crisis unfolds, as many place blame not only on his administration's ignoring and delaying action on the public health crisis, but also on his appointment of Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, who enforced the April 2014 decision to switch the water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River.

Earley, as vanden Heuvel pointed out, "was unelected and unaccountable to the public."

As Alec MacGillis reported for ProPublica earlier this month, upon taking office in 2011, "One of [Snyder's] first actions was to sign legislation greatly enhancing the powers of emergency managers." And though, in 2012, Michigan voters said they wanted to kill the emergency manager law, "the legislature took up a bill to simply replace the repealed emergency manager law with a new, very similar one."

While facing a Congressional hearing last week, Snyder himself admitted that his emergency manager law failed.

And on Wednesday, the Snyder-appointed Flint Water Task Force released its final report, finding, as Associated Press reports, that "[t]he state of Michigan is 'fundamentally accountable' for Flint's lead-contaminated water crisis because of decisions made by its environmental regulators and state-appointed emergency managers who controlled the city."

Progress Michigan's Scott responded, saying, "This report rightly lays most of the blame at the feet of people who answered directly to Governor Rick Snyder, including his appointed emergency managers."

"At the same time," he added, "the report confirms that the only reason the world knows about the crisis in Flint is because of the heroism of the people of Flint, who refused to stay silent or take the Snyder administration’s 'sit down and shut up' attitude for an answer."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Hold My Pearls': Debbie Dingell Lets Marjorie Taylor Green Have It Over Abortion Rights

The Michigan Democrat engaged in a verbal altercation with the far-right Republican lawmaker from Georgia on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Jon Queally ·

Cisneros Slams Cuellar for Being Only House Democrat to Vote Against Abortion Rights

"Once again Henry Cuellar refused to stand up for South Texans' reproductive freedom."

Jake Johnson ·

Covid-19 Cases, Deaths Rising Among Children Across US

"Is there an acceptable pediatric body count?" asked a top pediatrician in New Orleans this week. "I think not."

Julia Conley ·

Senate Filibuster Final Obstacle After House Dems Pass 'Historic' Abortion Rights Bill

"This is a moment of crisis," said one activist. "We cannot allow the filibuster, or anything else, to stand in the way of safeguarding our fundamental freedoms."

Jessica Corbett ·

Water Protectors Challenge Minnesota AG Keith Ellison's Silence on Line 3 Pipeline

"What is your plan?" one demonstrator asked while interrupting a speech by Ellison. "Are you going to take a stand?"

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo