Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said he would ask state lawmakers for an additional $28 million to deal with the ongoing water crisis in Flint as activists called for his resignation outside the Capitol building in Lansing Tuesday night.
Snyder addressed Flint residents directly during his State of the State speech, delivered to the legislature. He apologized for the “catastrophe” that exposed them to dangerous levels of lead in the water that public officials had previously insisted was safe to drink.
“Your families face a crisis, a crisis you did not create and could not have prevented,” Snyder said. “I am sorry, and I will fix it.
“Government failed you -- federal, state and local leaders -- by breaking the trust you placed in us,” Snyder continued. “I’m sorry most of all that I let you down. You deserve better. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know that the buck stops here with me.”
The Snyder administration failed to make sure Flint's public water system wouldn't corrode municipal pipes after the city quit buying water from Detroit in favor of using the Flint River, which was a cheaper but more corrosive option. The 2014 change resulted in high lead levels in city water, which state agencies denied until local pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha documented high lead levels in children's blood at the end of September. Snyder acknowledged Hanna-Attisha, who was in the audience, during his speech.
State officials were aware of elevated blood lead levels in July, according to emails uncovered through Freedom of Information Act requests, but said they thought the pattern reflected seasonal variation. It's not clear what Snyder knew when.
In a move toward transparency, Snyder answered outside groups’ calls to release documents from his office so the public could evaluate his role in the Flint crisis. He said his Flint-related emails from 2014 and 2015 would be available on the state website Wednesday. Under Michigan law, the governor is exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Melanie McElroy, executive director of advocacy group Common Cause Michigan, said releasing the emails was not enough.
"The Governor should not be allowed to operate in secret and outside of public scrutiny, McElroy said in a statement. “Picking and choosing the emails that he wants the public to see is not accountability.”
The additional $28 million will be used to supply Flint residents with bottled water and filters, as well as to fund resources for kids like nutritional counseling, nurse visits and environmental assessments. Snyder added that there would be support for children who develop behavioral issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, after lead exposure.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a frequent critic of the Snyder administration's handling of the crisis, called the $28 million inadequate.
“For those who think $28 million will begin to remedy the Flint water crisis, that is a fraction of the money city residents have paid for poisoned water that they cannot drink," Kildee said in a statement.
Snyder said Tuesday that he would increase the number of National Guard troops who have been distributing bottled water and filters door to door.
Last week, Snyder sought a federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama. The White House declared an emergency over the weekend, but stopped short of a full disaster declaration, something usually reserved for a natural disaster.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, for her part, met with Obama in Washington earlier on Tuesday.