Flint Water Crisis

Should Uncle Sam Have to Cough Up Aid for Flint Lead Poisoning Victims?

Despite Sen. Lee's valiant fight against federalizing the Flint debacle, federal taxpayers will have to pay up


Flint Water Pollution
David A. Villa via Foter.com / CC BY

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow is accusing her colleague, Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Tea Party Republican, of"grandstanding" for putting a secret hold on a $250 million bipartisan federal aid package she has ginned up to help Flint clean up the government-made lead-poisoning mess. Other liberals are lambasting Lee for holding relief to Flint residents' hostage to his ideological agenda.

Such accusations are really rich coming from folks who for decades kept absolutely mum as Flint's Democratic rulers robbed city residents' blind to pad the pockets of public sector unions. If they care so deeply about Flint residents, why did they not speak up when city politicos were racking up $1.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, money that could have come in handy in dealing with the current mess?

That said, it's not clear that Lee's hold will actually accomplish anything.

As I have noted, President Obama had previously arranged a $100 million phony-baloney aid package that basically repurposed money from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that Michigan would have gotten anyway and handed it back to Michigan with the proviso that it be spent on Flint cleanup. Sen. Stabenow is going beyond that and scraping together $250 million from various federal pots. She claims that this won't lead to "a penny" of extra federal spending because much of it will be paid for by redirecting funds from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program that subsidizes loans for auto companies.

Why this program? Because, Sen. Stabenow's Republican co-author on the bill, Sen. Jim Inhofe, explains without a hint of irony, "it is a failed program that hasn't been used in more than a year and has only issued five loans since 2008." In other words, don't kill a failed program that shouldn't have existed in the first place. Just find some other place to spend the money! (And then politicos wonder why Americans have so much contempt for them.)

But Sen. Lee is objecting to this ingenious little scheme because he claims that water infrastructure financing shouldn't be federalized. Michigan created the Flint mess and, he believes, Michigan should fix it by tapping into the state rainy day and surplus funds.

In general, I am super-sympathetic to Sen. Lee's position. As I have noted before, doling out federal money for Flint cleanup will "only create a moral hazard and make state leaders less accountable for screw-ups in future."

However, Sen. Lee's proposal is also far from satisfactory.

For starters, by urging the state to tap into its rainy day fund, he is asking Michigan leaders to do at the state level precisely what he doesn't want Sen. Stabenow to do at the federal level: Rejigger funds meant for one thing for something completely different. Michigan's rainy day fund is supposed to tide the state over during economic downturns when tax revenues plummet. To be sure, Michigan leaders haven't exactly covered themselves in glory by keeping their grubby fingers out of this fund. Indeed, most recently Governor Snyder diverted rainy day funds to "finance" Detroit's bankruptcy restructuring. But still—this is a fiscally irresponsible habit that should be discouraged not encouraged.

What's more, as I have also noted before, the Flint debacle happened because multiple government agencies failed at multiple levels, including the EPA at the federal level. It sat for months on its backside, refusing to alert Flint residents that their water was unsafe even after one of its own officer's found unacceptably high levels of lead in it. This is unconscionable given that EPA's whole reason for existence is that state and local government can't be trusted to protect water and air quality. Therefore, the feds have to take charge. But the EPA failed miserably in this task. So why shouldn't it be forced to pay up?

Sen. Lee claims that to the extent that the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible, Flint residents should sue the agency and then, if they win in court, they would get a settlement from the Treasury Department's Judgment Fund that is meant for precisely such purposes. There is certain logic to this. But Flint victims have a right to be incensed at federal officials whose response to obvious federal negligence that has endangered their lives and property is: "Sue me."

What's more, it is unclear if the EPA would, like most government agencies, be protected from liability lawsuits by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. If it is then Flint victims would be out of luck given that the legal burden required to successfully sue would be virtually insuperable. But maybe EPA would settle with them out of court. Indeed, "Sue and Settle" is something of a racket under which advocacy groups in cahoots with the agency sue — and instead of defending itself, the agency simply settles and uses the Treasury Judgment Fund to pay up.

Sen. Lee's spokesman Conn Carol acknowledges that federal taxpayers would be on the hook either way. "It's not perfect," he said in an e-mail, "but it is the system we have in place and it is still better than special pleading to Congress."

Sen. Lee deserves praise for at least looking for ways to force his colleagues to hew to some principles of honest accounting. It's a good fight but it is unclear what good it'll do. To the extent that the federal government doesn't pay up, Flint residents will suffer for no fault of their own (in fact, even the most generous aid package won't even come close to making them anywhere near whole). To the extent that it does, federal taxpayers will be screwed. So long as the government is in charge, its victims and taxpayers will remain at loggerheads.

If Sen. Lee really wants to do something, he ought to start a dialogue to fundamentally change the system. That means extricating water and other public utilities from the tentacles of government agencies and privatizing them so that they can be held directly accountable by consumers—and indirectly by regulators.

If Flint shows anything, it is that citizen health it too important to be entrusted solely to the government.

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    1. Thread over

    2. Agreed.

  1. Didn’t the EPA give the water a passing grade? If so, well, the fed-gov has some responsibility.
    Which is reason enough to disband the EPA.

    1. Ha ha! Really? I haven’t been paying attention to this story. That would be amazing. Maybe they got the samples from Flint and the Gold King Mine mixed up.

      1. The EPA knew the lead levels were high and didn’t do anything until a whistleblower gave info to a professor who blew the thing wide open.

        1. And the whistleblower’s boss is the only person who has suffered consequences… for allowing the report to be leaked.

    2. Didn’t the EPA give the water a passing grade?

      Yes. Because the water was fine.

      It was the pipes in people’s houses that caused the poisoning. Is the EPA now responsible for everything that happens to the water after it leaves the source?

  2. “To the extent that the federal government doesn’t pay up, Flint residents will suffer for no fault of their own”

    Uh, they voted in the people that created the mess.

    1. Some of them did, maybe, but surely not the majority of them.

      1. They voted for the mayor who approved the plan and thought reactivating the Flint water treatment facility would stimulate the local economy.

    2. So you’re responsible for that MSF hospital the US bombed in Afghanistan?

    3. Flint is so poor they can’t even afford the rental on a woodchipper?

    4. Government is the water we poison together.

  3. Article FAIL

    For starters, by urging the state to tap into its rainy day fund, he is asking Michigan leaders to do at the state level precisely what he doesn’t want Sen. Stabenow to do at the federal level: Rejigger funds meant for one thing for something completely different. Michigan’s rainy day fund is supposed to tide the state over during economic downturns when tax revenues plummet.

    That’s Flint for the last 60 years. Did you really think “rainy day” didn’t mean “rainy century caused by idiotic socialism?” Economic downturns are CAUSED by idiotic socialism. In other words, government slush funds cause economic downturns.

    The faster the slush fund is depleted the better off everyone will be. (Until it is re-funded.)

  4. Shouldn’t the parties responsible for the poisoning pay for it?

  5. No. Everyone in Flint shoudl just pack up and move to Detroit. How many shitty dying cities does Michigan really need?

    1. All of Michigan should be designated a Superfund site.

    2. They should all move to Traverse Michigan.

  6. I was at dinner with my future in laws and they were discussing the whole Flint story. They blamed Governor Snyder and condemned him for his awfulness. I pointed out that Flint was ran by Democrats for a long time.

    Fucking crikets.

    1. *crickets

    2. Anybody that blames Snyder should read the scathing NRO article describing who is involved.

      Snyder is quite literally the only one involved with an R by his name. Mayor – D, Council – D, Emergency Mgr that recommended the change in water suppliers – D, State Treasurer that appointed the Emergency Mgr – D, Obama – D, Obama’s EPA that sat on their hands – D, MI State Dept of Env. Quality – surely not employing too many people that vote R. Yes, the buck stops here and the Governor does bear some responsibility, but I’m not sure why if Snyder is so bad why Obama isn’t.

    3. You sure know how to pick ’em.

      1. Politics isn’t hereditary.

    4. I had a similar thought. I would have much more confidence (well….at least a little bit more than zero) if the entire DC establishment and the legacy media (I know…redundant) weren’t jumping on Gov. Snyder (the only R involved) with both feet while completely ignoring the 34,819 D’s who actually caused the problem.

      PS: I don’t know the actual number of statist asswipes involved. That just seemed like an entertaining number

  7. Flint residents will suffer for no fault of their own

    I mean…except the decades of electing and re-electing the progressives that pilfered the funds that caused this debacle in the first place. Other than that totally innocent.

    1. And the decades of apathy that allowed the city, county, and state governments to do whatever the hell they felt like doing with no citizen oversight whatsoever.

  8. Isn’t there like 100,000 people left in Flint? $250M seems like an awful lot for water. For that kind of money, they could buy SOTA reverse osmosis filters for every household.

    1. They were paying $285 mil for a pipeline from Lake Huron to provide the city’s drinking water plus raw water for industry, the raw water availability being sold as a sure-fire way of attracting said industry. The scheme was sold by Jeff Wright, the Genesee County Drains Commissioner and CEO of the Karegnondi Water Authority, the quango formed to build the pipeline. This would put KWA in charge of the profitable water supply they now relied on Detroit for.

      But wait! There’s more!

      1. You know why Flint was buying their water from Detroit instead of controlling their own supply? Because in 1964, Flint’s plan to do exactly what the KWA was supposed to do blew up.

        In that long-ago scheme, Flint businessman Samuel M. Catsman, a millionaire who owned real estate, coal, fuel oil and concrete companies, was indicted for fraud. He was charged with cheating the city of Flint using inside information about the planned pipeline route to buy and then sell land at a huge markup.

        The scandal that peaked with the arrest of former Flint City Manager Robert A. Carter and the indictment of Catsman ended with the charges dismissed, a fat profit repaid, and the legacy of suspected corruption tied to the pipeline plans.

        Note this article is from 20fucking12 when the paper was warning that this whole KWA idea might be a big turd – and Jeff Wright assured the paper that this time they were going to do it right.

        That failed venture to pipe fresh water to Flint serves as a lesson to those who plan a pipeline today bringing water from Lake Huron to Genesee County.

        “We know the history and want to be sure everything is transparent” this time, said county Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright.

        Right there’s the shithead that oughta be first in line at the woodchipper ride.

        1. And Jeff Wright sent the ultimatum to Flint to join the KWA now or never.

  9. Also, why are people even still in Flint at this point? Your city is actually poisoning you. Leave, for fucks sake

    1. Maybe they have a death wish? Even in a shitty democracy people should get what they want once in a while.

    2. They’re keeping the faith that when President Trump or President Sanders gets elected, they will shut off trade with China, Japan, and Mexico and the mills will open again.

    3. I am sure many are there because it would be very difficult to leave.

      1. I get that it’s probably difficult, poverty, nowhere to go, etc, etc, but being poisoned strikes me as one of those, “This is urgent, act now” life-and-death sort of things.

        1. No private company to foot the bill for the moving, unlike the recent underground gas storage tank leak in California.

          1. Good point. If it were a private company, they’d have to actually do something for the people they’ve fucked over.

      2. They could always move to San Fransisco.

    4. Because selling a house in Flint wouldn’t yield enough money for a down payment on a house or a security deposit on an apartment elsewhere.

  10. “co-author on the bill, Sen. Jim Inhofe, explains without a hint of irony, “it is a failed program that hasn’t been used in more than a year and has only issued five loans since 2008.”

    I’d say the odds are pretty good that Sen. Inhofe campaigns as one of those “cut government spending” conservatives. Is there any federal program that the Republicans have actually cut or abolished in the last, say, fifty years??

  11. If I were to put a secret hold on some government expenditure, I would pick something other than $250 million designated for a town full of poor people getting lead poisoning via the water supply.

    Fucking optics, how does it work?

    1. Hey, you give $250 million to a town full of poor people getting lead poisoning and pretty soon you’ve got dozens of poor towns poisoning their citizenry for even less. Incentives, how does it work?

    2. Any government program can be tied to the fate of spoor starving children. Poor starving children are the Kevin Bacon of government.

      1. I agree, but of all the boondoggles to fight about, this one is counterproductive.

    3. Homple.
      Closeted Statist fkhead.

  12. The people of flint are completely innocent victims, of course. Someone else came along and threw all that garbage and pollution in the river.


    2. The lead comes from the pipes.

      1. But why is the water so corrosive?

        1. OMG. I thought you wrote “so conservative.”

  13. “it is still better than special pleading to Congress.”

    But not to the President?

  14. I personally don’t want to have to pay for the fact that people living in bankrupt, decaying cities have failed to maintain their infrastructure for decades. The idea of just ignoring normal infrastructure maintenance until it becomes a disaster, then expecting the federal government to pay however many billion dollars to fix everything, is the wrong approach.

    1. States neglecting maintenance of infrastructure so as to obtain federal funds for repairs is a textbook example of rent seeking behavior.

  15. Nah we are too busy giving welfare to recipients to lazy too work and illegal aliens. The US is a pathetic JOKE.


  16. That means extricating water and other public utilities from the tentacles of government agencies and privatizing them so that they can be held directly accountable by consumers?and indirectly by regulators.

    You mean like the way Michigan’s Snyder privatized the staff at a state-run nursing home for veterans?

    An audit made public Thursday said workers at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans falsely claimed they were checking on patients, failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and took too long to fill prescriptions. Auditors also said the 415-resident facility provided insufficient care and continued with inadequate staffing levels even as the state filed four complaints over a 1?-year period against a company hired to supply nursing aides. … Democratic lawmakers and unions said the problems at the facility, which opened in 1886, show the failure of contracting government jobs to the private sector.



  17. Stephy poo, you miss the fact that when these guys fuck up they can be held accountable and the contract yanked or negligence punished. With government employees not so much. See the Flint clusterfuck or the VA clusterfucks…..no government actors held to account.

    This is why progs like you worship government, yet can’t see it’s pretty shitty at basically everything it does.

    1. Migrant Log Chipper: “Stephy poo…progs like you”

      Getting down into the gutter to hurl ad hom insults to try to take down the other side by denigrating them simply illustrates that you have no valid arguments of your own to rebut with. All you have are buckets of slime to try to muddy the issue.

      And so it is here. All you can offer are unproven assertions. For example, “they can be held accountable and the contract yanked or negligence punished”.

      Is that so? OK, so give us some examples where this has ACTUALLY happened.

      Secondly, who is going to be holding these people accountable? Government agencies like the EPA? The problem is these agencies are the sort of institutions many Republicans (e.g. Trump) either want to get rid of to reduce the size of government, reduce such agencies’ budget and/or staffing levels, or repeal the very regulations which such agencies enforce and which make assorted shonky practices illegal.

  18. You Owe Me!

    In this age of exploding collectivism and imploding individualism, one person’s mistakes become another’s responsibility. The motto has become, “I err ? you pay.”

    Some examples? Puerto Rico intentionally assumes debt that it knows that it never can repay; federal aid. Flint, Michigan changes its source of municipal water from the relatively clean Lake Michigan to the corrosive Flint River, thereby, poisoning its own children ? federal aid. People build on flood-plains then suffer massive damages when the rains inevitably arrive ? federal aid.

    The federal government may print a currency that it continuously debases, but upon what is that currency founded? The power to tax productive citizens. When those who intentionally engage in economically injurious behavior demand “federal aid”, they are putting their hands into other people’s pockets.

    “Ah, but we should help each other,” claim the “humanitarians”.

    If robbing a prudent Peter to save an imprudent Paul is “humanitarianism”, that word has become an obscenity. Behavior should have its rightful consequences.

    See “The Biobehavioral Orientation” at …
    http://nationonfire.com/b-fx/ .

  19. RE: Should Uncle Sam Have to Cough Up Aid for Flint Lead Poisoning Victims?

    Of course we should all pay for Flint’s fuck up.
    It takes a village.
    An avowed socialist said so.
    She wouldn’t lie.

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