By Harry Colbert, Jr.
The water crisis in Flint, Mich. is not just a problem for Michigan, but a national crisis in infrastructure.
So says Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN.), who along with other Congressional delegates met early this month with frantic residents in the water contaminated city of Flint. Ellison said the entire nation needs to be concerned with what is happening in Flint and warns there are more Flints out there.
“Flint is just a canary in the coalmine,” said Ellison. “(Washington,) D.C. had a similar incident of lead in the water and in Sebring, Ohio, right now they are dealing with a serious hazard as they too are dealing with high levels of lead in their water supply. There are a number of cities out there that could be in serious trouble.”
Flint’s water troubles began in 2014, when under the authority of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, residents of the once thriving city of Flint were switched from water from the Detroit River to water from the Flint River. The pipes that fed water from the Flint River were not properly treated with orthophosphate, the chemical that removes the lead from drinking water.
“The truly sad part is this crisis could have been prevented for just $100 a day, but the governor of Michigan felt profits were more important than human lives,” said Ellison. “That’s what happens when you try and run government like a business. It can’t be about the bottom line, it has to be about life.”
The Minnesota representative, who is also an attorney, said Snyder’s actions – or inactions – in his legal opinion rise to the level of criminal and Ellison has called for the Michigan governor to step down or face impeachment.
“As a lawyer, I can say the Clean Water Act has criminal penalties, which I think are applicable in this case,” said Ellison.
While Snyder’s actions may be criminal according to Ellison one U.S. senator’s actions – while not criminal, are immoral.
A bill in the Senate that would release $220 million to assist residents of Flint and other areas facing such crisis is being held up by one senator – Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). A similar such relief bill passed the Republican led House by a unanimous vote. Lee is refusing to allow the bill to come to the Senate floor. Unlike in the House where only the Speaker can halt a bill from being heard by the entire body, any senator can stall a bill in the U.S. Senate.
“For Sen. Mike Lee it’s fine to inflict harm on people,” said Ellison of Lee’s refusal to have the bill be heard on the Senate floor.
Insight News reached out to Lee’s office and was provided a statement by the Utah senator that basically said Michigan can solve its own problems and federal aid was not needed.
“What is happening to the people of Flint, Michigan is a man-made disaster,” said Lee. “Congress has special mechanisms for emergency spending when it is needed, but to date Michigan’s governor has not asked us for any, nor have Michigan’s senators proposed any. Contrary to media reports, there is no federal ‘aid package’ for Flint even being considered … and for a good reason. Federal aid is not needed at this time. The state of Michigan has an enormous budget surplus this year and a large rainy-day fund, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Gov. Snyder has requested $200 million of that from the state legislature for Flint this year. Relief and repair efforts are already in the works. The people and policymakers of Michigan right now have all the government resources they need to fix the problem.”
Lee said those calling him out for halting the Senate hearing are grandstanding.
“What’s really happening here is that Washington politicians are using the crisis in Flint as an excuse to funnel taxpayer money to their own home states, and trying to sneak it through the Senate without proper debate and amendment,” said Lee.
Ellison said in order to prevent future Flints the U.S. needs a serious investment in infrastructure and has introduced a House bill that calls for $25 billion in funds to be disbursed over five years.
“Here in Minnesota our water is fine, but we had a bridge come crashing down,” said Ellison. “This investment is critical.”
Twitter: Rep. Keith Ellison @keithellison Mar 4
We came to Flint to listen to the people and hear their stories. #FlintWaterCrisis