Gov. Rick Snyder late Thursday asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency in Flint and expedite major disaster relief in Genesee County as a result of the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis.
The governor requested federal financial aid for both individuals and state and government agencies involved in assisting Flint residents and repairing a public water pipeline infrastructure damaged by corrosive river water blamed for lead contamination.
Snyder’s request to Obama seeks federal tax dollars to give individuals grants for temporary housing and repairs to their homes and low-cost loans for covering uninsured loss of property. The request also seeks federal aid to help repair public schools and other public facilities with damaged pipelines.
“We are utilizing all state resources to ensure Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water, and today I am asking President Obama to provide additional resources as our recovery efforts continue,” Snyder said.
Flint’s water contamination crisis would only qualify for federal emergency status — not natural disaster assistance — since it was a man-made disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will advise Obama on whether a major disaster declaration should be made, according to Snyder’s office.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that Snyder’s request will be considered expeditiously and a FEMA decision could come as early as this weekend.
Earnest noted that FEMA personnel have already been deployed to Flint to provide logistical and technical support to state and local officials, but also serving as liaisons between the long-term recovery committee established by Snyder and relevant federal agencies that may assist with existing programs and funds.
FEMA has also given bottled water to Michigan. The agency regularly stockpiles commodities for use in emergencies.
“They had bottled water that was nearing its expiration date that they were prepared to donate to charity, that has been redirected to this ongoing response effort in Michigan,” Earnest said during the daily press briefing.
Also, “both the EPA and DOJ (Department of Justice) have indicated they’re taking a close look at this situation in terms of the science and in terms of the impact that it has had and could have on local populations,” he added.
The White House was referring to the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s investigation announced a week ago.
FEMA has received Snyder’s request and is reviewing it “as expeditiously as possible,” spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said Friday morning on Twitter. He said in an email he could not provide a time frame for responding to it.
A major disaster declaration would trigger long-term recovery programs and uncap financial assistance. The federal government would be required to cover at least 75 percent of eligible costs for essential assistance and repair or replacement of public facilities.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township urged the president to approve Snyder’s request for federal aid.
“Over the last several years, our Governor and state regulators have failed to meet their legal responsibilities to protect the public health and well-being of the people of Flint,” they said Friday in the letter to Obama. “…In addition to the substantial financial commitments we expect the State of Michigan to provide, we are asking for your help in marshaling any available federal resources to combat the near- and long-term health, behavioral, and cognitive effects that are well documented for children and vulnerable populations exposed to dangerously high lead levels and other harmful pathogens.”
In addition, U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and other committee leaders sent a letter Friday to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting an urgent briefing on Flint’s drinking water. They want the information by next Friday.
“We urgently request a briefing on these matters and on EPA’s anticipated role as the situation in Flint continues to unfold,” according to the letter signed by Reps. Upton, ranking member Frank Pallone, D-N.J.; John Himkus, R-Ill.; Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.; Tim Murphy, R-Pa.; Diana DeGette, D-Colo.; Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., and Gene Green, D-Texas.
Snyder’s request included a request for FEMA to be granted the authority to direct federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Small Business Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to support Michigan, he said.
An emergency declaration, more limited in scope, would provide assistance to meet immediate needs. Funding is generally capped at $5 million per emergency, although the president must simply notify Congress if he determines that additional assistance is necessary because of a continued risk to lives, property, public health or safety.
While the president can declare any incident that causes damage beyond the ability of state and local governments to handle as a major disaster, doing so in the case of a man-made public health crisis like the one in Flint would be rare, if not unprecedented.
“The governor’s request is under review … and we’ll provide a recommendation to the president as expeditiously as possible,” Lemaitre said.
Major disaster declarations typically follow severe weather events, earthquakes or wildfires, which can be caused by humans or nature. Of the 362 major disaster declarations since 2010, a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that killed 15 people was the only exception, according to a review of online FEMA records.
The president last declared a major disaster in Michigan following severe storms and flooding in Metro Detroit in August 2014. The federal government has so far approved or obligated more than $30 million in individual and public assistance.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, responded early Friday to the governor’s request for federal aid.
“I have repeatedly called for Governor Snyder to ask for federal resources for my hometown of Flint since September 29, 2015, and I am glad to see he has finally acted,” Kildee said in a statement.
“The residents and thousands of children of Flint who have been poisoned are the victims in this situation. They deserve a response equal to the gravity of this crisis. Today’s request by the governor is an important step toward making sure they get the help they need.”
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SOURCE: The Detroit News – Chad Livengood