Michigan Governor’s Office Knew of Flint Water Poisoning in March

Detroit-based Pastor David Alexander Bullock discusses new documents that show the government allowing General Motors to switch water sources while keeping the general population at risk

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Leaked emails between Michigan state officials reveal that they were aware of the Flint water poisoning since last March, way before the story hit the news. Documents show Governor Rick Snyder’s aid, Harvey Hollins, was made aware of the outbreak in Legionnaires’ disease last March. This is in stark contrast with what the governor has been claiming. He says he didn’t know about the outbreak until the fall of 2015.

As some may know, Flint was initially getting its water from Lake Huron until April 2014, when it was switched to the Flint River in order to cut costs. However, now the state may end up having to pay a heavy price to fix the mess, while residents are paying the ultimate price. Let’s take a listen at what Flint residents are saying.

SPEAKER: Regardless of this information and the fact that my son had lead poisoning, the city and the MDEQ still continued to tell everyone the water was safe, as the EPA sat by and watched in silence.

SPEAKER: I had a dream that I could drink water out of a faucet in the United States of America. And I shouldn’t have to worry about getting poisoned. This ain’t right, how we’re living. Snyder needs to be arrested. This is treason. We’re all mad here. Flint lives matter. People don’t want to talk about the real cost.

DESVARIEUX: Flint lives matter. Really powerful stuff. We’re joined now by our guest David Alexander Bullock to unpack all of this. He’s a pastor of greater St. Matthew Baptist Church. He’s also the founder and national spokesperson for the Change Agent Consortium. He’s joining us from Detroit. Thank you so much for joining us, Pastor Bullock.

DAVID ALEXANDER BULLOCK: Thanks for having me. Good to be on the show.

DESVARIEUX: So, Pastor Bullock, I’d like to start off by asking you about these emails. Why would there have been an outright coverup of this outbreak if they knew this was going on? And then, of course, my thought is, aren’t they, too, drinking the same water as everybody else?

BULLOCK: Well, I think what you’re seeing in Michigan is what we saw very similarly in Chicago with the Laquan McDonald case. You see government failing, and then government failing to be transparent. The state of Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder’s administration, had been for about a year and a half refusing to listen to the people. Ignoring activists, calling the data of doctors into question. Even, even suggesting that some folks, like myself, were using the Flint water crisis as a political football. And so there was a lack of urgency. There was an insensitivity, a lack of empathy and sympathy for folks who were being affected.

In terms of them drinking the same water, obviously folks who don’t live in Flint would not be drinking this water. And then we found a smoking gun email, now the emails are being released, that actually the state of Michigan sent bottled water and water machines to the state building in Flint about a year before the emergency was declared.

So we’re clear about a couple things. One, this is a man-made crisis. Two, there seems to be a concerted effort by the state of Michigan not to admit, take responsibility, and maybe even cover up their role in the crisis. And three, obviously someone in state government, maybe even the governor, knew about this at least a year before the emergency was declared.

DESVARIEUX: Gotcha. I think we need to go back a step, too, and understand, why was this even the source of the water switched to Flint River, again.

BULLOCK: Well, we’re told that the emergency manager in Flint–and so in, in Michigan we have these emergency managers. They’re like receivers on steroids. In other words, one person, one man, one woman appointed by the governor, only held accountable by the governor and the state treasurer, has all the power to run a city or a school district. Flint used to get their water from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, and then switched to the Flint River supposedly to save $5 million.

Now, they could only make that switch at the recommendation of the emergency manager, and with the approval of the governor. Now, coincidentally, or incidentally, there is a pipeline being built from the Huron River directly to Flint called the KWA pipeline that’s going to generate a lot of money, a lot of contracts, and a lot of political cronies are going to get paid. And so many of us believe that the switch from Detroit to the Flint River was really motivated by greed.

DESVARIEUX: So an oil pipeline, we’re talking about.

BULLOCK: We’re talking about a water pipeline.

DESVARIEUX: Water pipeline. Okay. Okay. Okay. Let’s switch gears a little bit. Michael Moore, he just published an article on the Huffington Post where he writes about how a few months after the water was switched, General Motors complained that the Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode. So they were, in fact, given access to Lake Huron for their operations while the rest of the population was still drinking this poisoned water. Can you talk a little bit about this?

BULLOCK: Yeah. So what’s interesting about the General Motors case is that in October 2014, General Motors realized that the water from the Flint River was corroding their car parts, making the engines break down and messing up the manufacturing process. And so they were able to switch back to the Detroit Water and Sewage Department water.

And what’s interesting about that is that at the same time not only wasn’t the city of Flint switched back to Detroit Water and Sewage Department, but actually state government told Flint officials that it was impossible to switch back. That they couldn’t switch back. So now how is GM able to switch back to the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, but somehow it’s impossible for the city of Flint?

DESVARIEUX: Okay. I want to talk a little bit about the elections, because everyone’s talking about it. And Hillary Clinton is actually going to be in Flint campaigning. I want to get your take on that. What do you think that move is all about, and what do you think candidates should be addressing when they’re talking about Flint?

BULLOCK: Well, look, I think Hillary Clinton coming, the debate happening in March, are good in the sense that they will spotlight and highlight the issue. Of course, we don’t want people’s public pain to become political spectacle, and we don’t want to make it political platform for a candidate. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people are coming into Flint and coming into Michigan, saying things and bringing water. But they’re not dealing with the issues on the ground. We need new pipes now. We need nutrition for people affected by lead. And we need accountability for state government.

Is Hillary Clinton going to help folks recall Governor Rick Snyder? Is Hillary Clinton going to get Democratic and other allies to bring nutritional items to babies and mothers and seniors in Flint? Is she going to actually help put boots on the ground so that people just don’t get filters, but they get new pipes? These are the questions. The last thing we need is another elected official coming to Flint, having a press conference, and then getting on a plane, going to a house where they have water they can drink, water they can use to wash themselves, while the people who watch the press conference on TV have to bathe, have to cook, and have to live with bottled water stacked in their house.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Pastor Bullock joining us from Detroit, please, please keep us honest. And we’ll definitely have you back on the program giving us updates about this water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Thank you so much for joining us.

BULLOCK: Thank you so much for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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