Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, facing protests, lawsuits and calls for his resignation over drinking water contamination in Flint, on Tuesday night apologized to the city’s residents and called for the state to spend $28 million on fixes.
"We are praying for you, we are working hard for you and we are absolutely committed to taking the right steps to effectively solve this crisis," he said in his State of the State address. "To you, the people of Flint, I say tonight as I have before: I am sorry, and I will fix it."
Snyder committed $28 million more in the short term to dealing with the lead contamination that has left Flint residents unable to drink unfiltered tap water. He announced the deployment of roughly 130 more National Guard members to the city and promised to quickly release his emails regarding the crisis that has engulfed his administration with criticism from across the country.
His aides pledged that, by the end of the week, officials would visit every household in Flint to ensure they have water filters.
Snyder devoted much of his 49-minute evening address to the GOP-led Legislature to the disaster as hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the Capitol. Many of his other priorities were shelved from the speech due to the crisis, though he did address the mounting financial problems in Detroit's state-overseen school district.
He outlined a timeline of the "catastrophe" dating to 2013, and blamed it on failures at the federal, state and local level, but also said: "I let you down. You deserve better. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know the buck stops here with me."
The images of an impoverished city where no one dares to drink the water have put Snyder on the defensive and forced him to step up his efforts to help. The governor, who previously apologized for regulatory failures and for an underwhelming initial response, has rejected calls for his resignation and said he received incorrect information from two state agencies.
In recent weeks, he declared a state of emergency, pledged more state funding, activated about 70 National Guardsmen to help distribute lead tests, filters and bottled water, and successfully sought $5 million in federal assistance. But to many people, those steps took way too long.
The new round of funding announced Tuesday, which requires approval from the GOP-led Legislature, is intended as another short-term step while Snyder works to get a better handle on the long-range costs. He plans to make a bigger request in his February budget proposal.
The $28 million would pay for more filters, bottled water, school nurses, intervention specialists, testing and monitoring. It also would replace plumbing fixtures in schools with lead problems and could help Flint with unpaid water bills.
The crisis began when Flint, about an hour's drive from Detroit, switched its water source in 2014 to save money while under state financial management. Michigan's top environmental regulator resigned over the failure to ensure that the Flint River water was properly treated to keep lead from pipes from leaching into the water.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who attended the address, said Snyder's contrition "does not mitigate the crime that has been committed."
The Associated Press