Democrats around the nation may be trying to pin the blame for the Flint water crisis on the Governor since he’s the only Republican within striking range, but the residents of the city have apparently been following the news and set their sights on a different culprit. This week attorneys for hundreds of affected public water customers announced a multi-million dollar suit against the Environmental Protection Agency. Their announcement cuts through a lot of the partisan politics surrounding the crisis and pins the tail on the correct donkey. (Detroit News)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now the latest governmental entity targeted for damages in a class action lawsuit stemming from the Flint water crisis.
On Monday, attorneys for more than 500 current and former city residents filed claims for personal injury and property damage. Those claims, which fall under the Federal Tort Claims Act, total more than $220 million in potential damages.
In a statement released with the lawsuit Monday, plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Pitt wrote: “The EPA heard the alarm bell loud and clear but chose to ignore the profound environmental and public health issues brought to its attention in the early stages of this disaster. This agency attitude of ‘public be damned’ amounts to a cruel and unspeakable act of environmental injustice for which damages will have to be paid to the thousands of injured water users.”
We’ve been batting this subject around since the news broke and there are three words in the plaintiffs’ statement which encapsulate the entire argument: chose to ignore. If someone must be held accountable and found liable for damages, the focus should properly be on those who could have done something to at least mitigate the damage. As I have stated repeatedly, there is no avoiding the fact that Governor Snyder, as the chief executive of the state, must own up to the failures which took place on his watch and he’s done so repeatedly. The people who were appointed under his tenure clearly made flawed choices without gathering all of the required information when the decision was made to switch water sources. That’s inexcusable, but it was also a mistake.
These were factors which led to the disaster, but once the cards were dealt and the lead began seeping into the water, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality were the ones who found out about the toxic lead levels and stood mute while they argued over bureaucratic red tape and procedural options. The issues they were fighting over clearly needed to be addressed, but at the same time, anyone with knowledge of the test results could have picked up the phone, called the local newspaper or television stations and said, “Hey… the water’s poisonous. You might want to tell people not to drink it.”
They failed in that fundamental duty, not on a procedural or legal score, but on a level of basic human compassion. A series of errors in judgement allowed the lead to being seeping into the water. A callous disregard for the lives and health of the residents of Flint on the part of the EPA allowed the damage to continue mounting for months on end. If someone is going to pay the piper for this, the plaintiffs in the upcoming lawsuit have finally identified the correct villain.