The Virginia Tech professor who discovered toxic lead levels in Flint’s drinking water said he finds a federal aid bill for the Michigan city “disappointing.”
Marc Edwards, an environmental and water resources engineer, told C-SPAN’s Washington Journal in an interview aired last week that the legislation does little to help Flint. Worth more than $100 million, the bill would fund national programs instead of targeting the city’s drinking water crisis, he complained.
Edwards characterized the bill as “just spreading [money] around so many different government agencies, who frankly…don’t even have Flint’s best interests at heart.”
Bipartisan supporters, including both Michigan senators, call the legislation critical.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the bill would “not only help the families of Flint, but make a critical investment in cities across the country.” And Stabenow maintains that it would be fully funded and wouldn’t increase spending “by one penny.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., disagrees and has placed a hold on the bill, temporarily blocking the legislation. So far, Lee is the only senator to do so publicly.
The Utah Republican argues that the Flint crisis is a “man-made disaster” that Michigan is best off cleaning up on its own.
“Michigan has an enormous budget surplus this year and a large rainy-day fund,” Lee said Friday. “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.”
The Great Lake State is far from high and dry.
Michigan has squirreled away $386 million in an emergency fund and collected a $575 million surplus in 2015. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has already requested $200 million in relief funds from the state legislature for Flint.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint in January, later authorizing more than $80 million in aid, and has instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in the cleanup effort.
At this point, Lee said, “[t]he only thing Congress is contributing to the Flint recovery is political grandstanding.”
Flint represents a cost-cutting episode gone awry. Under financial pressure, the city manager opted to switch water sources to reduce spending. Instead of piping Lake Huron water in from Detroit, officials tapped the Flint River in early 2014.
Shortly after, untreated water flowing through old lead pipes brought contamination into the homes of Flint residents. In September 2015, Edwards and a team from Virginia Tech reported that the city “has a very serious lead in water problem.”
Forty percent of homes had elevated lead levels in their drinking water, according to the Virginia Tech Report.
Evens small amounts of lead, according to the Mayo Clinic, can create big problems. Exposure increases the risk of mental and physical development in children—especially in young infants.
But Lee says that Michigan has the tools to being the catastrophe to a close.
“What’s really happening here is that Washington politicians are using the crisis,” Lee wrote “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. I respectfully object.”
Lee’s hold isn’t final. It can be bypassed through parliamentary maneuvering. But if that happens, an aide told The Daily Signal that the senator is considering a filibuster to bring the measure to a second halt.
Stabenow expressed disbelief that Lee would continue to slow the measure.
“I am extremely surprised that Sen. Lee would be holding up a bipartisan bill that would help communities across the country,” she wrote. “If Sen. Lee opposes the bipartisan bill that is fully paid for he should vote against it, but he should not block it from even getting a vote.”
Lee’s office reject the numbers propping up Stabenow’s math. The funds for Flint would be redirected from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program, but that wouldn’t occur until 2020. By then, Lee projects, the funds will be gone.