FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Real Disaster(s) in Flint’s Water Crisis

by

shutterstock_315865412

Most Americans have heard of the crisis that has unfolded since Flint, Michigan decided in April 2014 to source its water from the Flint River—a decision that exposed citizens to dangerous levels of lead as the new water corroded existing distribution pipes. While the immediate health hazard and its possible future effects have dominated the story, another important chapter is unfolding as the state and federal governments battle over whether the situation deserves disaster status.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder last week requested a federal disaster declaration, but the federal administration granted only a more limited emergency declaration. The governor has since appealed. Though the need to immediately provide safe water to the city’s almost 100,000 citizens is undeniable, the use of disaster and emergency program assistance is flawed on several counts.

The urgency to rectify this crisis should have been felt a year and a half ago, when changes in water quality were first noticed, or when lead was detected over a half year ago. Instead, city officials waited until this past October to switch the water source back to the pre-2014 Detroit sources, and waited until now to seek federal help.

The federal administration has argued that a federal disaster declaration (as opposed to the emergency order that was granted) is meant for natural disasters. Typically, this includes hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes—that is, environmental disasters whose economic and personal damage exceed what any individual community in the country can reasonably absorb on its own.

The request for a federal disaster declaration flies in the face of the nature of federal emergency aid. The Stafford Act says governors can request a federal declaration and the assistance it provides when they “show that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the local governments…”

What should the federal government do when the state and the local governments intensify the severity and magnitude of a crisis?  And what should be done when the crisis is human-made? Disaster declarations are not meant to fix bad local and state decisions.

Paying to rectify poor water infrastructure decisions and to compensate for delayed monitoring or regulation of water quality with emergency management funds blurs the underlying missions of distinct public agencies. But this is not just a bureaucratic consideration.

There is another disturbing concern beyond how we define disasters: the Flint request serves to feed the notion that punting the problem—any problem—works.

We’ve seen this even with regard to mitigation and preparedness for natural hazards over the last half century. More recently, we have funded infrastructure maintenance at frighteningly low levelsand have undervalued environmental enforcement. Now, we’re seeing this neglect with regard to climate change adaptation.

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, we’ve decided to simply wait until the disease is full blown. Then, we as Americans have no choice but to pay for the pound.

At this point, the national government should indeed get involved in Flint’s water crisis. Providing the $5 million in immediate aid for clean water and exploring health services is a good start for the people of Flint. Working with communities to plan for better infrastructure, funding those developments, and adequately enforcing environmental laws will help reduce the number of future similar crises from becoming disasters.

And, we will face more of these crises.

This column was originally published by the Urban Institute.

Carlos Martín is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail