Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Today is the LAST DAY of this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

TODAY is the last day to meet our goal -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year.

Proof that Snyder’s Emergency Management is to Blame in Flint

Jeremy Mohler

A little over a week ago, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released hundreds of pages of e-mails related to Flint from 2014 and 2015. One of the attachments, an assessment of Flint’s water system by a private water corporation, is very significant.

In February 2015, almost a full year before the news of widespread lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, gained headlines, the world’s largest private water corporation, Veolia, deemed Flint’s water safe. They were hired by the city to assess the discolored water that many residents had been complaining about—a General Motors plant had even stopped using Flint’s water because it was rusting car parts.

But while Veolia, a French transnational corporation, deemed Flint’s water to be “in compliance with State and Federal regulations,” they concluded that “aging cast-iron pipe” was creating “aesthetic issues including taste, odor, and discoloration.”

Their report didn’t mention lead, but they recommended spending $50,000 to add corrosion control chemicals to Flint’s drinking water because iron was leaching from the city’s pipes.

The city didn’t heed Veolia’s advice, but regardless, someone should have known that lead was likely leaching into Flint’s water as well.

According to Joan Rose, former chairwoman of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water committee, “If you’ve got iron sloughing off (the pipes), you’ve got other metals sloughing off, including lead.”

Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher who helped expose the crisis, said that if iron is leaching into the water from old pipes and connections, it follows that lead is also leaching.

Well, it turns out that the Flint City Council—democratically elected by residents—voted overwhelming to return the city’s pipes to the old water source just eleven days after Veolia’s report. Councilman Eric Mays mentions the report in his testimony before the vote. The council voted to “do all things necessary” to reconnect Flint’s pipes and fix the problem.

But the City Council, acting on behalf of the residents they represent, was overruled by Gerald Ambrose, Snyder’s “emergency manager” at the time. Ambrose, who had seen the report, called switching back to Detroit’s water “incomprehensible” because it would cost money.

This is an indictment of a number of things:

  1. Gerald Ambrose. For simply doing his job as “emergency manager” to cut costs at the expense of the health and safety of Flint’s residents.
  2. Rick Snyder. Snyder was aware as early as February 1, 2015, that Flint’s brown water “may also be attributable to cast iron pipes in customers’ service connections to the city lines.” He also pushed through the controversial 2012 law allowing “emergency managers” to take over Michigan’s cash-strapped municipalities and school boards. The law had been rejected by the state’s residents the year before, but Snyder passed it anyway. These managers are, by definition, anti-democratic—they have unchecked authority over local elected officials. Their job description is to cut costs.
  3. Running government like a business. Snyder is a former corporate executive and venture capitalist with little government experience prior to being governor. Snyder talks about “outcomes” and “deliverables,” calls residents “customers,” and has sought to “reinvent” Michigan to make it business-friendly.
  4. Austerity. The tragedy in Flint is a symptom of a larger shift in American political economy. Today, it is normal to blame government deficits for society’s problems, and to scoff at raising government revenues (taxes) to fund much-needed investments in critical infrastructure and social programs. The resulting philosophy is: markets good; government spending bad. Which really means: market competition, which favors the already powerful, good; democracy, which has the potential to help everyone, bad.

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

Jeremy Mohler

Jeremy Mohler is communications director of In the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization that studies public goods and services. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, The Guardian, Jacobin, The American Prospect, El Nuevo Día, and other outlets.

TODAY is the last day of our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·


As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo