Rick Snyder

#FlintWaterCrisis: I Don’t Think That Report Said What You Think It Said, Gov

Today’s House Oversight Committee hearing into the Flint Water Crisis was a joke. It was partisan — more so than the previous two hearings — because Republicans finally clued in that a Republican state governor’s crisis doesn’t make them look good if they don’t kick up a stink and draw fire away from their role in the mess.

And yes, Congress’ GOP members are directly responsible for what happened in Flint, because they are also responsible for neutering the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress is the one entity which failed to take any responsibility for what happened in Flint — and what happened in Flint had already happened in Washington DC. Congress ensured that the EPA would be subordinate to the states, relying on states to act with inadequate recourse to step in and intervene. See Primacy Enforcement Responsibility for Public Water Systems (pdf) and note the obligations the states have to ensure safe drinking water under these laws:

  • Safe Drinking Water Act, 1974, as amended in 1986 and 1996
  • Primacy Regulations 40 CFR Part 142, Subpart B, 1976, as amended in 1986
  • Revisions to Primacy Requirements (1998), 63 FR 23362 codified at 40 CFR Part 142

These are Congress’ purview; as part of the Executive Branch, the EPA does not make law. Only Congress does.

Equally annoying today is the tendency by the Republican representatives to go easy on Michigan’s Governor Snyder, who tried to make it sound like he was doing everything he could to fix Flint and be open and transparent. You know this is bull hockey if you’ve looked at batches of emails released to date.

You know it’s also nonsense if you look at documents produced by the Snyder administration, intended to assist the public with understanding what happened.

One example is a timeline of the Flint water crisis laid out in a two-page presentation, with bubbles containing descriptions of events. A bubble marking March 12, 2015, appears in the upper right of the first page, denoting the submission of a report by Veolia Water. The firm had been hired by Flint’s emergency manager as water quality consultant to review and evaluate the water treatment process and distribution system.

Veolia completed and submitted their report to the city on March 12, but the report does not actually say what the state’s timeline document says. Veolia wrote,

“Although a review of water quality records for the time period under our study indicates compliance with State and Federal water quality regulations, Veolia, as an operator and manager of comparable utilities, recommends a variety of actions to address improvements in water quality and related aesthetics including: operational changes and improvements; changes in water treatment processes, procedures and chemical dosing; adjustments in how current technologies are being used; increased maintenance and capital program activities; increased training; and, an enhanced customer communications program.”

Veolia relied on what previous water quality records said; they did not actually conduct tests themselves, or audit how the previous records and reports were prepared.

But the timeline published by the governor’s office reads,

“Flint water consultant Veolia, issues report that water meets state and federal standards. Does not report specifically on lead.”

The second sentence is correct, the first a misrepresentation. That’s not what Veolia’s report said.

The second sentence may be factually correct, but the company was not hired by Flint’s emergency manager to evaluate lead levels specifically, based on the supporting documentation accompanying the resolution authorizing the contract with Veolia.

If one entry on the timeline prepared by the state is this iffy, what about the rest of the timeline?

If this timeline is this iffy, what about everything else generated by officials from the governor’s office on down?

Thursday Morning: A Little Green Around The Gills

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you who observe this opportunity to drink beer (tinted green or otherwise) and eat boiled dinner and wear green! We’ll know the hardcore among you tomorrow by your hangovers.

Folks overseas don’t understand how St. Patrick’s Day blew up to the same proportions as other holidays like Halloween, blaming it on American commercialization. But the holiday as observed in the U.S., like Halloween, has roots in immigration. Four to five million Irish immigrated to the U.S.; their descendants here are nearly 40 million today, roughly seven times the number of actual Irish in Ireland now. With this many Irish-Americans, even a tepid observation of St. Patrick’s Day here would be visible abroad.

In addition to all things green, we’ll be watching this week’s second #FlintWaterCrisis hearing. Representatives Chaffetz and Cummings can go all shouty on Michigan’s OneLawyeredUpNerd Governor Rick Snyder and EPA’s Gina McCarthy though I have my doubts anything new will emerge. (And you’ll see me get really angry if Rep. SlackerForMichigan Tim Walberg shows up to merely make face on camera. Useless helicoptering.)

Unlike Tuesday, I hope like hell somebody brings up Legionnaire’s cases and deaths in Flint after the cut-over of Flint’s water to Flint River. Thousands of children may have been permanently poisoned by lead, but people sickened and died because of this complete failure of government-as-a-business.

I can’t stress this enough: There were fatalities in Flint because of the water.

Hearing details – set a reminder now:

Thursday 17-MAR — 9:00 AM — Gov. Snyder (R-MI) & EPA Head McCarthy: House Hearing on Flint, MI Water Crisis (est 3 hours, on C-SPAN3)   Link to House Oversight Committee calendar entry

You can find my timeline on Flint’s water here — as noted Tuesday, it’s a work in progress and still needs more entries.

Moving on…

Apple leaves Amazon for Google’s cloud service
Wait, what?! File under ‘Wow, I didn’t know!’ because I really though Apple housed all its cloud services under its own roof. I mean, I’ve written about data farms before, pointed to a new Apple location. I didn’t know Apple had outsourced some of its iCloud to Amazon.

Which makes Senator Ron Wyden’s remarks about asking the NSA with regard to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone even more interesting.

No wonder Apple is moving to Google, considering Amazon’s relationship with certain government agencies as a cloud service provider. Some of Apple’s data will remain with Amazon for now; we might wonder if this is content like iTunes versus users’ data. Keep your eyes open for future Apple cloud migrations.

US Navy sailors’ electronic devices combed for data by Iran
Gee, encrypted devices and communications sure are handy when members of the military are taken into custody by other countries. Too bad the Navy’s devices weren’t as secure as desired when Iran’s navy detained an American vessel in January this year. To be fair, we don’t know what all was obtained, if any of the data was usable. But if the devices were fully encrypted, Iran probably wouldn’t have said anything.

American Express’ customers’ data breached — in 2013
Looks like a select number of AmEx customers will receive a data breach notice with this explanation:

We became aware that a third party service provider engaged by numerous merchants experienced unauthorized access to its system. Account information of some of our Card Members, including some of your account information, may have been involved. It is important to note that American Express owned or controlled systems were not compromised by this incident, and we are providing this notice to you as a precautionary measure.

The breach happened on December 7, 2013, well into the Christmas shopping season, but we’re just finding out now? “Third party service” means “not our fault” — which may explain why AmEx shareholders (NASDAQ:AXP) haven’t been notified of a potential risk to stock value as yet. Who/what was the third party service? Where’s their notification to public and shareholders?

I need to brew some coffee and limber up before the hearing on Flint, track down my foam footballs and baseballs to throw at the TV while Gov. Snyder goes on about how sorry he is and how he’s going to fix Flint’s water crisis. Oh, and find an emesis basin. See you here tomorrow morning!

Monday Morning: Put Your Pom-poms Down

A certain state governor (or his PR team) tweeted a bunch of smack last night during the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate. Like this:

RSnyder_tweet_06MAR2016

It is to laugh. Every decision made by this administration about Flint has been about money, not about the right thing, and not even about the legal thing.

He put his pom-poms down last week long enough to lawyer up, though. Mm-hmm.

By the way, that’s the NSFW version – here’s the language-sanitized clean version of that video for your office space. Crank the volume and bring it.

All around Apple town

  • Email provider Lavabit filed an amicus brief in #AppleVsFBI, arguing the FBI’s demands could have adverse affects on businesses:

    Such precedence would likely result in many businesses moving their operations offshore, therefore, making it more difficult for law enforcement to obtain even ordinary assistance from such companies…

    Wow, sounds familiar, huh? Brief’s worth a read (pdf).

  • Apple VP of software engineering Craig Federighi wrote an op-ed for yesterday’s WaPo, restating an opinion Apple and many of its supporters already expressed:

    “…it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. …”

  • The stakes get higher in #AppleVsFBI as Apple prepares to launch several new iPhones and an iPad on March 21. We all know a decision by Judge Pym will affect these devices in the future, not just the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5C.
  • And just to keep Apple users even more on their toes, there’s now Apple ransomware on the loose. So far only Mac devices have been targeted, but it’s only a matter of time before other Apple devices are similarly affected. I’d put my money on higher profile users or those using iPhones to remotely control costly systems.

Quickety-lickety

And on this day in 1876, U.S. Patent 174,465 for Improvement in Telegraphy was granted to Alexander Graham Bell.

What will they write about this day in another 140 years? Do something worth writing about.

Friday Morning: Afro-Cuban Coffee

I should just dedicate Fridays to different genres of jazz. Today feels like a good day for Afro-Cuban jazz.

This chap, Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, who performed under the name Machito with his Afro-Cubans, was an incredibly important innovator shaping Afro-Cuban jazz as well as modern American music. He was important to race in the music industry as well, as his Afro-Cubans may have been the first multi-racial band.

I’m brewing some Café Bustelo before I bust out my dancing shoes. ¡Vamonos!

Judge applies ‘Parkinson’s Law’ to VW emissions cheat case
You know the adage, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”? U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer gave Volkswagen 30 days to come up with a fix* for all the emissions standards cheating passenger diesel engine cars in the class action lawsuits he oversees in San Francisco. Gotta’ love this:

“It’s an ongoing harm that has to be addressed … I’ve found the process is a function of how much time people have available to fill. The story about lawyers is that that if you give them a year to do something, it will take them a year to do something. If you give them 30 days to do something, they’ll do something in 30 days.”

As time passes, vehicle owners are increasingly damaged as no one wants to buy their cars and their investment is lost. Hence the aggressive time limit.

* Caution: that link to SFGate may autoplay video and ad content. Really, SFGate? That’s such hideously bad form.

Rough road ahead in Saudi Arabia to a post-oil world
This piece in WaPo paints a grim picture of cheap oil’s impact on Saudi Arabia — and there are huge pieces missing. Worth a read while asking yourself how much Saudis are spending on military efforts against Yemen and Syria, and what new industries they’re investing in to replace oil-based employment.

Took long enough: Software and social media firms get Apple’s back
Did their legal departments finally read the case thoroughly and realize they had skin in this game, too? Who knows — but Google as well as Microsoft are planning to file amicus briefs in support of Apple. Microsoft had already indicated they would support Apple in a congressional hearing yesterday morning; Google piped up later. The latest skinny is that Facebook and Twitter both intend to file briefs as well in favor of Apple. Looks like Microsoft’s current management took an 180-degree turn away from progenitor Bill Gates’ initial response, hmm?

Hit and run

That’s a wrap on this week. Keep your eyes peeled for news dumps while folks are still picking apart last night’s GOP-cast reality TV show. And make time to dance.

EDIT — 8:40 AM — Ugh, why didn’t the Detroit News publish this piece *yesterday* instead of a Friday morning? Michigan’s Gov. Snyder’s “inner circle” exchanged emails advising a switchback from Flint River a year before the switchback took place, and only three weeks before Snyder’s re-election. There was enough content in this to go to press without waiting for a quote from one of the former advisers.

Flint: The Legionnaires Will Be What Brings Criminal Charges

In my discussions about Flint’s water crisis, I keep pointing out that Rick Snyder was largely just making a show of responding until the US Attorney revealed it had started an investigation on January 5.

The Detroit News has an utterly damning report today about the part of the story that gets less national attention: local and state officials started discussing an outbreak of Legionnaires disease back in October 2014, and national experts offered help as early as March 2015, but the state did not accept assistance offered by both the EPA and CDC until January.

Darren Lytle, an expert in Legionella from the EPA’s Cincinnati office, told his colleagues that his previous research showed that changes in water chemistry can cause disruption and “destabilize” water piping systems. Lytle “thought the incidence of Legionella must be fairly extensive for the (Genesee County Health Department) to notice and study,” according to the conference call notes.

Lytle offered to come to Flint and study the origins of the pneumonia-causing bacteria, records show.

But state and county officials appear to have never followed through with the offer for help, an EPA official said. As it did in Flint’s lead contamination, the agency stayed publicly silent about the threats to public health in Genesee County while state and local officials debated how to approach the problem, records show.

[snip]

The Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that infected 87 Flint-area residents and caused nine deaths from April 2014 through November was not made public until Jan. 13, when Snyder announced them in a hastily called press conference in Detroit. Snyder had learned of the outbreak two days before, an aide said.

In January, state health officials finally requested support from CDC’s Legionella experts 11 months after it was offered, Nordlund said.

Through that entire time period, state officials pretended they were developing a public information campaign to tell Flint residents about the outbreak. And, as the story reminds, nine people died directly from Legionnaires during that period.

Shortly after the feds revealed they were investigating, the Attorney General announced his own (very conflicted) investigation, the investigator for which, Andy Arena, claimed is the biggest investigation in Michigan history (Arena led the investigation into the UndieBomb attack while still at the FBI). It has been unclear what those investigations might find or whether anyone would be found of breaking the law. Certainly, on the lead poisoning, the state seemed to believe they were adequately testing for lead (even though, as this story notes, local authorities were far more worried about months before the state officials).

But I have to believe the Legionnaires is where people are really exposed for criminal negligence, as they let people continue to be exposed to deadly bacteria months and months after federal officials tried to help.

 

[Work in Progress] Timeline: Flint’s Water Crisis

This is a work in progress. Not all dates and events between the end of 2015 and current date have been added as of publication. This timeline will be updated periodically, as events unfold and as key information is revealed about Flint’s ongoing water crisis. Some information is incomplete or in need of validation. Links to sources will be added over time. If you have content you believe is relevant and should be added, please share in comments.
__________

1974-2002

XX-DEC-1974 — The federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) enacted to ensure safe drinking water for the public; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting safety standards, monitoring, compliance and enforcement of the same under the SDWA.

07-JUN-1991 — EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) limiting the amount of lead and copper in public drinking water, as well limiting the permissible amount of pipe corrosion occurring due to the water itself.

XX-JUL-1998 — The federal Environmental Protection Agency required all large public water systems maintain a program to monitor and control lead in drinking water due to piping corrosion under the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). Cities like Flint must have a state-approved plan to maintain water to regulatory limits for pH, alkalinity, corrosion inhibitor chemicals.

XX-XXX-2002 — [DATE TBD] Genesee County purchased 326 acres of property with 300 feet of Lake Huron waterfront via auction from Detroit Edison, for $2.7 million **How did this purchase affect the city of Flint’s 2002-2004 financial crisis?
__________

2009

28-AUG-2009 — Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued a permit to Genesee County Drain Commission for water withdrawal from Lake Huron (Permit 2009-001), up to 85 million gallons per day. MDEQ director at the time is Steven Chester.
__________

2011

10-MAY-2011 — DTE Energy expressed interest in acquiring 3 million gallons of water from Lake Huron intake for use at the Greenwood electricity generation plant.

07-SEP-2011 — Report to Flint City Council by Rowe Professional Services determined buying water from Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) cheaper than continuing to purchase from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), or using Flint River water as upgrades to Flint treatment equipment required would cost $50 million.

XX-SEP-2011 — (confirm date) City of Flint increase water and sewer rates 35%. Higher water costs due in part to higher-than-expected unmetered water losses. This is the second double-digit rate hike in 2011. The city’s water system once served ~200K residents, now serves half that number and a much smaller manufacturing base.

29-NOV-2011 — Emergency Manager Michael Brown appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to take over management of the city of Flint effective 01-DEC-2011. Democratically elected offices are now subordinate to the EM.

XX-DEC-2011 — (confirm date) Report showed the City of Flint leaking 30 to 40% of its water, well above more typical 15-20 percent loss of unmetered water.

14-DEC-2011 — EM Michael Brown appointed Howard Croft as Director of Infrastructure and Development. Croft’s role has oversight of Parks and Recreation department, Street Maintenance, Water and Sewer, Sanitation, Planning, Fleet and Community and Economic Development. Jerry Ambrose named financial advisor, with oversight of finance, budget and treasury departments; Gary Bates named director of human resources and labor relations. Bates’s role was temporary, lasting 90 days, at time of appointment.

20-DEC-2011 — The City of Detroit sells $500,675,000 in bonds for Water Supply System Revenue funding (pdf). The offering prospectus notes Flint’s desire to migrate to the KWA, but that it might be seven years out before the move. 6% of DWSD water is supplied to Flint.
__________

2012

XX-FEB-2012 — (confirm date) Emergency Manager’s team audited Flint’s water system to identify current rate of unmetered water loss.

23-APR-2012 — EM Michael Brown proposed budget plan includes a 25% average increase in water and sewer rates, with water rates projected to increase 12.5% and sewer 45%. City personnel cuts were also proposed. Water and sewer are the single largest expenditure in the budget. (Proposed budget, PDF) **Did any of the personnel cuts made affect staffing of water and sewer maintenance?

XX-AUG-2012 — [DATE TBD] Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder after Brown steps down. Kurtz has previous experience working in Flint during the 2002-2004 financial emergency.

XX-DEC-2012 — [DATE TBD] Michigan Treasury officials met with Flint city officials to discuss drinking water alternatives, including Flint River. Only two options — remaining on DWSD, or development/switch to new KWA — would be studied.
Continue reading

Hillary’s Flint Gambit

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As I’ve noted repeatedly, when independent tests first publicized that decisions made by Governor Snyder’s hand-picked Emergency Manager were poisoning Flint’s children last October, he made a show of response, but it wasn’t until the Task Force he appointed laid into his Department of Environmental Quality and Detroit’s US Attorney revealed it was investigating the problem that Snyder ratcheted up his effort to appear to be responding.

But his actions since then have largely been an attempt to stall for time, presumably a hope that anti-corrosives in Flint’s pipes will bring lead levels down so that we can all move on and forget about it. True, he did get the state legislature to cough up $28 million, which will go to ramping up state agency involvement. He has asked for $30 million to alleviate some, but not all, of Flint residents’ water bills so they’re not paying for water they can’t use, but it’s not clear the legislature will fund it (and it’s just partial relief in any case).

But at the same time, he has asked for bigger funding chunks from the Federal government: $96 million under disaster funding for things including replacing a fraction of the lead pipes in the city, and the expansion of funding for WIC funding for Flint’s children until they’re 10 (which would have improved nutritional support for kids at risk of lead poisoning). The Feds denied both those requests. Snyder and the Republicans are now blaming Obama for denying these requests. Understand: Obama’s administration could only had approved them by violating the terms of these programs set by Congress. Snyder asked for something that, under the law, Obama could not give, and now Snyder is using that denial to try to pawn off responsibility onto Obama, rather than the appointed managers who created this mess and ignored it for over a year.

That leaves the lead pipes in the ground, still leaching toxic levels of lead four months after anti-corrosives were first added to the water to try to reverse the corrosion. Some houses in Flint still have so much lead in the water that filters cannot be trusted to remove the poison.

Michigan’s Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, tried to get $600 million added to a bipartisan energy bill to start the work of actually replacing those pipes. But even revising that request down to $200 million didn’t work, so Democrats filibustered the bill.

That was Thursday.

Hours later, during the debate, Hillary announced she’d do an appearance in Flint today, which ended a few hours ago.

I will be in Flint at the Mayor’s invitation on Sunday to get an in depth briefing about what is, and is not happening.

This is an emergency. Everyday that goes by that these people, particularly the children, are not tested so we can know what steps must be taken to try to remediate the effects of the poisoning that they have been living with is a day lost in a child’s life. I know from the work that I’ve done over so many years, lead, the toxic nature of lead can affect you brain development, your body development, your behavior.

I absolutely believe that what is being done is not sufficient. We need to be absolutely clear about everything that should be done from today to tomorrow, into the future to try to remedy the terrible burden that the people of Flint are bearing. That includes fixing their pipes, it includes guaranteeing whatever healthcare and educational embellishments they may need going forward, and I think the federal government has way where it can bill the state of Michigan. If Michigan won’t do it, there have to be ways that we can begin to move, and then make them pay for it, and hold them accountable.

Her appearance (which drew no national coverage) had some strong points: She reminded she had worked on lead (paint) issues in New York, she noted that many other cities are suffering from similar problems, she called to get Flint people working to replace the pipes.

She brought up the $200 million Democratic Senators are currently demanding.

Therein lies the rub.

I’m completely agnostic about whether this particular trip will hurt or help (it’s very clear that Hillary’s focus on Flint two debates ago helped draw attention, though of course that came months after the lead poisoning was first revealed in October).

It could be that next week Democrats in the Senate will be able to get Republicans to relent to their demand for Flint funding. But it could also be that Republicans will dig in, given that denying Flint funding becomes a way to deprive the presumptive Democratic nominee a win. That’s true, especially since John Cornyn already accused Democrats of trying to embarrass Republicans on this issue.

Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas called the Democrats’ sudden rejection of what had been bipartisan support for the energy bill “gamesmanship” and an effort to “embarrass Republicans” by making it seem they did not care about Flint.

He said state officials are trying to figure out how much a full infrastructure repair program in the city might cost — an estimate is expected next week — and to authorize full funding before that was “putting the cart before the horse.”

“The State of Michigan and the City of Flint don’t know what they need to do to fix the problem or how much it will cost,” Cornyn said. “The senators form Michigan come in here and say we don’t need to know … we want cash.”

It seems Republicans are stalling, hoping this will fade from view before some Republican legislature — either Federal or state — ends up funding a needed infrastructure program which will not only fix the water problem, but provide a Keynesian boost to a city Republicans would like to cure with more austerity. As months go on, this year’s Presidential and next year’s gubernatorial election will exert pressure of some sort. It may well be that Hillary can use her focus on Flint to showcase a call for more infrastructure funding that will tip some elections. It may also be that the prospect of Hillary on the ballot in November exerts pressure downticket on Republicans.

But for the moment, this seems like uncertain political gamesmanship that could leave Flint residents drinking from plastic bottles for months to come.

Update: I meant to include this quote from a Flint resident, which encapsulates my concern.

“It’s bad news to me,” said Arthur Woodson, a 46-year-old Army veteran who runs New Beginnings, a Flint-based nonprofit aimed at helping soldiers return to the community. “She’s turning it into a political football. The GOP won’t ever do anything now. They’re going to turn it into a partisan thing.”

“This is a water issue,” he continued. “It’s not a political issue. We got kids who are suffering. We don’t have time for this partisan stuff.”

Update: MI Republican Chair and Mitt Romney niece Ronna Romney McDaniel is out complaining about this “calculated campaign tactic.”

Families and residents in Flint deserve better than being used as political pawns by a Presidential candidate. This visit is not an act of benevolence; it is a calculated campaign tactic – an attempt to grab headlines by a struggling campaign.

It is time to focus on solutions. As a candidate who proclaimed that the enemies she is most proud of are Republicans, I doubt that Hillary Clinton is here to contribute to the bipartisan effort to fix this crisis. The families in Flint deserve solutions, not a stunt that does nothing to help the city or the people who call it home.

Flint Crisis: Harvey Hollins Not Giving Task Force Information that Implicates Harvey Hollins

Some weeks ago, I noted that Rick Snyder had picked his Director of Urban Initiatives, Harvey Hollins, to coordinate response with his hand-picked Task Force to respond to Flint, in spite of the fact that Hollins was intimately involved in all his prior decisions involving Flint.

First, back in early December, Snyder’s hand-picked Task Force for responding to the Flint crisis met with him to tell him of their initial observations. One of their key recommendations, as made clear by a meeting summary they shared with him, was that he appoint one single person to handle the response. (See PDF 240ff)

We also believe it important that a single person or entity-potentially independent of any one particular state agency and mutually agreeable to this Task Force and you, Governor-be established to provide effective coordination of ongoing activities and reporting on thestatus of mitigation measures.

[snip]

Accordingly, in advance of our final report, we would like to ensure the independentcoordinator suggest ed above engage trusted community groups to beginrebuildincommunity trust in state actions.

Snyder responded by “appointing” Harvey Hollins, his Director of Urban Initiatives, as that person “independent” of the “involved state agencies.”

You make a solid suggestion about establishing a person who is independent of any one of the involved state agencies to serve as the point person to coordinate t he ongoing work. I am recommending that Harvey Hollins, director of the Office of Urban Initiatives,carry out this effort. Harvey Is wellversed in the issues and the challenges faced by ourcities and will be effective in this role. Senior members of our executive team willcontinue to engage with your task force and provide direction and support to Harvey to ensure you will have continued support and cooperation.

The thing is, Hollins was in no way “independent” of the decisions that poisoned Flint. He has been involved at every phase, down to coordinating Snyder’s hush-hush water filters when he was still trying to cover it up. So basically Snyder just “appointed” the guy he had “appointed” to oversee all the decisions that got Flint poisoned in the first place.

The other day, Progress Michigan revealed that MI’s Department of Environmental Quality had alerted Hollins of concerns that the Legionnaires outbreak in Flint might be tied to the water switchover last March.

In the next few days, officials at DEQ exchanged some panicked emails, pretty much blaming Flint for the non-response, noting that DEQ “became peripherally aware” of the spike in Legionnaires, but also bitching about the Genesee County supervisor suggesting that it might be tied to the switch to Flint river water.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 7.02.07 PM

It appears that panicked email was printed out by then DEQ Director Dan Wyant’s assistant, Mary Beth Thelen, then initialed by Wyant, presumably indicating he had read it.

Also included on that email, though, was Harvey Hollins.

Yesterday, the Free Press reported that, in an interview, Hollins had explained that he had decided there was not yet enough information to brief the Governor on the public health crisis potentially tied to the water.

Harvey Hollins III, director of Michigan’s Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, said in an interview Friday that he received an e-mail from a Department of Environmental Quality official in March about concerns over Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County. But Hollins said he told the e-mail’s author, former DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel, in a follow-up call, that there was not enough information for him to take the issue to the governor.

Instead, Hollins said he told Wurfel to gather more information and have the department’s director bring it directly to the governor if it was warranted. Hollins said he heard nothing more about the issue until late December when local officials in Flint revealed the outbreak had recurred.

Hollins said he should not be held responsible for what some have called the state’s sluggish response to the Legionnaires’ outbreaks starting in 2014. The outbreaks and the city’s 2014 switch to the Flint River for its drinking water are suspected of being linked, but state officials said they have yet to make a direct connection.

“I have nothing to leave over,”  Hollins  said when asked whether he considered resigning over the issue. “When you have people who are professionals who are hired … to do their job and it takes four months to do that, for me to leave over their missteps, I’m not going to do that,”

“I don’t feel any responsibility for grown-ups who don’t do their jobs,” he added.

It’s unclear whether the Freep asked Hollins if he felt any responsibility for the 9 people who died in this Legionnaires outbreak.

Also yesterday, one of the doctors on the Task Force with which Hollins is supposed to be coordinating communication said that it is having problems getting information — notably, on the Legionnaires outbreak — from state agencies.

“Unfortunately, first on the list is the legionella issue,” said Reynolds of Mott Children’s Health Center, referencing spikes in the fatal Legionnaires’ disease after the city began using Flint River water in April 2014.

“Some agencies have been very forthcoming, other agencies it’s like pulling teeth to get information, and it can get real frustrating and doesn’t facilitate good communication,” he said.

Reynolds, who serves on the task force, raised his concern during a meeting of the Flint Interagency Coordinating Committee attended by Snyder and top aide Rich Baird, who vowed to help Reynolds push through any bureaucratic resistance.

[snip]

The Flint task force has been working to wrap up its investigation this month, but Reynolds said members may need to reinterview some officials because of recent developments.

“If we don’t ask the question, we don’t get the answer,” he said. “But there’s clearly information that’s being withheld.”

How curious that Hollins doesn’t seem to be terribly effective at getting the Task Force the information it needs about events that implicate Hollins.

DEQ Employees Seem Unwilling to Take the Fall for Flint

During yesterday’s Congressional hearing — and really, since the Governor’s hand-picked Task Force first gave him an interim report in December — employees from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality have come in for most of the blame for poisoning Flint.

But today, Progress Michigan published some emails that suggest DEQ’s employees are unwilling to take the fall, at least not by themselves. They show that in March of last year, a supervisor in Gennesee County’s health department wrote people in Flint and at DEQ asking for help with data on water quality after getting no response to a FOIA in January 2015.

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In the email, the supervisor noted that a spike in Legionnaires coincided with the switch to Flint’s water. Jerry Ambrose was then the Emergency Manager of Flint; it’s unclear why he was using a GMail address as EM.

In the next few days, officials at DEQ exchanged some panicked emails, pretty much blaming Flint for the non-response, noting that DEQ “became peripherally aware” of the spike in Legionnaires, but also bitching about the Genesee County supervisor suggesting that it might be tied to the switch to Flint river water.

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It appears that panicked email was printed out by then DEQ Director Dan Wyant’s assistant, Mary Beth Thelen, then initialed by Wyant, presumably indicating he had read it.

Also included on that email, though, was Harvey Hollins.

As I noted here, in December, in response to a recommendation from Governor Snyder’s hand-picked Flint Task Force, the governor picked Hollins to be the single “independent” person overseeing response to the Flint crisis. It was absurd to pick him in the first place, because (as this shows) Hollins had been personally involved all along. But he is, at least on paper, in charge of response.

In other words, the email chain shows that both Snyder’s hand-picked EM and the guy in charge of liaising with Flint knew, over a year ago, that Legionnaires (which has since killed at least 9 people) might be tied to the water switchover.

Progress Michigan doesn’t note how they came by this email. But it’s pretty clear it was Wyant’s personal copy of it. In December — in response to another suggestion by the Task Force — Snyder had Wyant resign. Since then, Attorney General Bill Schuette pointed to Wyant’s resignation (which he originally expressed sadness about) to justify opening up his own investigation into the crisis.

All of which suggests to me that Wyant is unwilling to be the sole scapegoat for this crisis.

Why Is the Postal Inspection Service Investigating the Flint Water Crisis?

I hope to have a further update about the ongoing effort to bury the Flint water crisis before the Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Wednesday morning.

But in the meantime I wanted to point to this passage, helpfully dropped out of the US Attorney’s investigation in Detroit:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday it was joining a criminal investigation of lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan, exploring whether laws were broken in a crisis that has captured international attention.

Federal prosecutors in Michigan were working with an investigative team that included the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General and the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit said.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency was determining whether federal laws were broken, but declined further comment.

I’m actually not at all surprised FBI is involved in this investigation. That sort of comes with the territory of a US Attorney investigation, it seems.

But the US Postal Inspection Service? Here’s the kind of crime they investigate:

Report these issues to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service online:

  • Mail fraud May include scams or deceptive ads via the mail, or postage fraud.
  • Mail theft Under Inquiry Type, select Problem. Under Customer Service, select Support, and Mail Theft. Under Additional Information, explain why your complaint is mail theft-related.
  • Identity theft
  • Unsolicited Sexually Oriented Advertising

If you believe you’re a victim of fraud related to the U.S. Mail, including mailed sweepstakes, lotteries, on-line auctions, work-at-home scams or chain letters, report your concern to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service as mail fraud.

They often get brought in as an investigative partner if the government needs to track what has been mailed, and mail fraud charges can serve as hand add-on charges in cases where someone used the mail to help commit a crime.

I can imagine a lot of things the FBI might be investigating. But I know of no facts, thus far, that involve mail-related crimes.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @azcwatchdogs @yvonnewingett @AZPressClub Awesome choice. Congrats!
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emptywheel "middle of the road" conservatives. "candor" https://t.co/jkH12BfTer
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bmaz @emptywheel @ethanchiel I disagree. I read it all (it is long), but there was some interesting stuff. And not a total puffer either.
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emptywheel RT @samueloakford: At press conference upon taking UN Security Council presidency, Egypt's ambassador refuses to answer questions about pre…
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emptywheel @Ali_Gharib That's awesome.
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emptywheel @ethanchiel Thank you profusely for saving me from that pain.
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emptywheel @ethanchiel "Hahahahaha Preet! You?!? My boss?!?!"
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emptywheel @ethanchiel You're going to make me click thru for Comey quote? If Comey doesn't say, "no one is the boss of me" it won't be worth clicking
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emptywheel @ethanchiel Does it at least say what Preet is positioning himself for this time? Hillary's AG?
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emptywheel Has anyone read this perennial favorite Preet puffer to see if has added anything to the press releases? https://t.co/0NOfbj4aNz
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