As a scandal continues to swirl around Michigan state authorities over toxic water in Flint, Governor Rick Snyder suspended two state employees on Friday in connection with the lead contamination, while some powers were restored to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to deal with the crisis.
Snyder suspended without pay two staffers of the Department of Environmental Quality for their role in the 2014 switch of Flint’s water source from the Detroit water system to the long-polluted Flint River. The bid to save money resulted in massive infrastructure damage and lead contamination.
“Michiganders need to be able to depend on state government to do what’s best for them and in the case of the DEQ that means ensuring their drinking water is safe,” Snyder said in a statement. “Some DEQ actions lacked common sense and that resulted in this terrible tragedy in Flint.”
But many have pointed the blame at Snyder, calling for his resignation over the water scandal. The Republican governor has refused to resign, saying he wants to stay on board to resolve the crisis and prevent it from happening again.
The unelected emergency manager that oversaw the water switch that led to the water disaster has also not been held accountable for the contamination. Darnell Earley, described by the New York Daily News as the “emergency manager keeps managing to make emergencies,” is now the emergency manager for the crisis-gripped Detroit public school system.
MI Gov who says 'race played no role' in #flintwatercrisis is simply lying. No possible chance this would have happened in rich white 'burbs— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) January 22, 2016
Many have argued that the public health crisis in the poor, majority-Black city points to issues of structural inequality and racism. According to Reuters, Snyder has said that the Flint water crisis is “absolutely not” a case of environmental racism.
Meanwhile, state officials decided to restore some of Weaver’s powers as the mayor of Flint, including allowing her to hire and fire city administrators and department heads with the approval of Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri.
The decision comes after Weaver met with President Barack Obama earlier this week to discuss the water situation. Obama has announced his administration will send US$80 million to Michigan to help repair deeply damaged water system infrastructure in the cash-strapped city of Flint.
Officials were slow to respond to complaints over water in Flint, which many have interpreted as a consequence of poverty and inequality suffered in Flint. Although Michigan state officials knew about the risk of contaminated water as early as July 2014, they did not take action until October 2015.
Flint’s water was switched back to the Detroit system in October 2015 after the corrosive water of the Flint River was allowed to flow into people’s homes for 18 months, causing serious damage to water pipes and lead contamination.
The full extent of damage is still unclear.
WATCH: Environmental Racism in Flint, Michigan