Rebecca Cook / Reuters

Political fallout, blame swirls over Flint water crisis

President Obama offers Flint support as Michigan House OKs governor's request for an additional $28M for water crisis

President Barack Obama pledged to offer support for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan on Wednesday and environmental regulators were set to provide Congress with information about their role.

Blame is swirling after a switch in the water supply to the financially strapped city of 100,000 north of Detroit led to elevated levels of lead in drinking water.

“I met with Mayor [Karen] Weaver in the White House, in the Oval Office,” Obama said during an appearance in Detroit, “and told her that we are gonna have her back, and all the people of Flint’s back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy.”

Obama declared an emergency — qualifying the city for $5 million — but concluded that the high lead levels are not a disaster based on the legal requirement that disaster money is intended for natural events such as fires or floods.

Facing protests, lawsuits and calls for his resignation, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, asked Obama to reconsider. Snyder declared a state of emergency over the water earlier this month. His action follows emergency declarations by the city and Genesee County, which requested help from the state.

Snyder apologized to the city's residents on Tuesday during his State of the State address and called for the state to spend $28 million on fixes.

The Michigan House quickly approved Snyder’s funding request on Wednesday. The request, which would cover more filters, bottled water, school nurses and testing and monitoring, and it would also replace plumbing fixtures in schools with lead problems and help Flint with unpaid water bills.

The measure moves to the Senate for expected action next week. If approved it would be in addition to $10.6 million allocated in the fall.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while saying it was reviewing its handling of the crisis and could have acted faster to inform the state of what measures it should take, also blamed the state on Tuesday. It said the agency's oversight was hampered by "failures and resistance at the state and local levels."

A group of bipartisan lawmakers including Michigan Republican Fred Upton, of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote last week to EPA head Gina McCarthy, requesting a briefing about Flint. That briefing to congressional staffers was scheduled for Thursday.

Flint, under a state-appointed emergency manager, switched to Flint River water in April 2014 from the Lake Huron supply that Detroit uses to save money.

Complaints about the water began within a month of the move. But Flint did not return to Detroit water until October 2015 after tests showed elevated levels of lead in Flint tap water and in some children.

The lead — which can lead to behavior problems and learning disabilities in children and kidney ailments in adults — has left Flint residents unable to drink unfiltered tap water.

"This is something nobody should have to deal with. Everybody should have clean water," Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told a conference in Washington.

Snyder, who has faced questions about how quickly he acted after learning about the water contamination, released 274 pages of Flint-related emails from 2014 and 2015 on Wednesday, ranging from press releases to staff memos and planning notes.

The governor’s then chief of staff told Snyder in a Sept. 26 email, “We can’t tolerate increased lead levels in any event, but it's really the city's water system that needs to deal with it. We’re throwing as much assistance as possible at the lead problem ... The residents and particularly the poor need help to deal with it.”

Wire services

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