UPDATED: Snyder apologizes for Flint crisis, releases emails
LANSING — Several hundred protestors advocating for the city of Flint surrounded the Capitol Building in the hours before Gov. Rick Snyder’s sixth State of the State Address, chanting “Snyder Must Go,” and “Justice for Flint” in 20 degree temperatures. The protestors crowded entrance ways into the Capitol and could be heard from inside the House Chambers, according to representatives who tweeted during the speech.
Snyder used the first 20 minutes of his address taking responsibility for the crisis and explaining a six-item plan to fix contamination issues with Flint drinking water. He also announced he will be releasing emails related to the water crisis from 2014 and 2015, despite the governor's office being having no obligation to from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
"I let you down," he said to families in Flint. "You deserve better, you deserve accountability, you deserve to know that the buck stops with me."
Snyder went on to say that government from the federal to local level failed the people of Flint. He also walked through a timeline of events, starting in 2013, and steps the state had taken throughout the crisis.
Several of the initiatives Snyder introduced during his address include:
- Taking steps to deploy more National Guard troops to "ensure that every home we need to visit gets visited as soon as possible." Snyder first mobilized troops on Jan. 12 after declaring a state of emergency on Jan. 5.
- Appealing President Barack Obama's refusal to declare a federal disaster in Flint after Snyder declared a federal emergency on Saturday. A federal disaster declaration, which is reserved for natural disasters and not man-made ones such as the situation and Flint, would make greater amounts of federal funding available.
- Asking the Legislature for a $28.5 million appropriation to cover immediate needs, such as the cost of bottled water and filters and troops from the Michigan National Guard.
- Expanding eligibility for the Women, Infants and Children healthy nutrition program. Good nutrition can minimize the impact of lead exposure.
- Testing and replacing faucets and other fixtures at schools and public facilities that could be potential sources of contamination.
Drinking water in Flint became contaminated April 2014 while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. The city began switched drawing its drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost-cutting move while waiting for a new pipeline to Lake Huron to be completed.
After the water supply was found to contain high levels of lead, criticism is mounting that officials ignored or neglected indicators of a growing crisis that Snyder has publicly called "a disaster."
"I hope any people that watched the governor saw what I did, which is a very sincere and heartfelt apology," said State House Speaker Kevin Cotter."He was very open and apologized but went further and I’m happy to say he is going to commit the next three years to making right by the people of Flint."
In his closing remarks, Snyder asked the people of Michigan to pray for Flint residents and to hold him accountable.
"We will not stop working for the people of Flint until every single person has clean water every single day, no matter what," he said.
In the Michigan Democratic response to Snyder's address, legislators wore blue to symbolize support for Flint. Many were unconvinced of Snyder's sincerity, believing his apologies to be disingenuous.
"We've seen Snyder have a complete lack of urgency, honesty, oversight and accountability," said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich.
Rev. Jesse Jackson attended the address, and said the Flint water crisis is a "crime against humanity" in the Democratic response.