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.

More articles by:

Carlos Martín is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail