LANSING, Mich.— The Michigan attorney general’s investigation into the process that left Flint’s drinking water tainted with lead is drawing bipartisan criticism, with a Republican leader saying Tuesday that it duplicates the work of a state task force and Democrats questioning whether the special counsel will be impartial.
Meanwhile, the crisis has attracted the attention of the United Nations, which is “looking at the human implications closely,” according to Baskut Tuncak, a UN expert on hazardous substance and waste. And national and local NAACP leaders are planning to reveal Tuesday what they call a “15-point priority plan” created with Flint residents’ input to address the health emergency.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Tuesday that the probe into Flint — which Attorney General Bill Schuette said Monday will be led by a former assistant prosecutor for Wayne County and a retired head of Detroit’s FBI office — should wait until a panel appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder finishes its work.
“I’m a little concerned about that because the (task force) report hasn’t been put out yet and I think duplicating efforts is not very helpful,” Meekhof said. “There’s plenty of time to look at what happened and who did what when and where, but right now we have people that don’t have safe drinking water and we’re going to make sure that’s done first.”
Meekhof suggested Schuette should pay for the outside investigators with existing funds and not ask the Legislature for additional money. He said once the panel is done, Schuette would then have a better idea of whether to investigate.
And Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, said Tuesday that Schuette took months too long to investigate, but he will “give him the benefit of the doubt until I see otherwise.” A day earlier, Democratic state Rep. LaTanya Garrett asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a federal investigation, noting that Schuette denied a Democratic legislator’s September request for a state investigation.
“I am not confident that he can serve in the best interest of the Flint citizens,” Garrett said.
A Schuette spokesman declined to comment Tuesday.
It is unclear at this point whether the attorney general’s probe could result in criminal or civil charges. The investigation could focus on whether environmental laws were broken or if there was official misconduct in the process that left Flint’s drinking water contaminated. Flood declined to discuss which laws may have been broken, except to note that “a plethora of laws” could be used and that there are prohibitions against misconduct by public officials.
Flint switched from Detroit’s municipal water system while under emergency state financial management and began drawing from the Flint River in 2014 to save money, but the water was not properly treated. Residents have been urged to use bottled water and to put filters on faucets.
The UN has looked at Michigan water issues before, sending two human rights officials to Detroit in 2014 as the city was shutting off water service to residents behind on their bills. They had no enforcement abilities, but called on Detroit officials to restore water to those unable to pay.
The NAACP’s plan for Flint, which the civil rights organization said was developed with input from Flint residents, will be announced early Tuesday evening. Also Tuesday, the EPA said teams are preparing to collect samples to confirm that lead is being removed by water filters.
Todd Flood, the former prosecutor, and Andy Arena, formerly of the FBI, will report to Schuette, who promised they would provide an “experienced and independent review of all the facts and circumstances.” Schuette also said Monday that having special counsel will prevent conflicts of interest since the attorney general’s office also will defend the state against lawsuits brought by Flint residents.
Schuette declined to investigate in December but later reversed course and announced the inquiry Jan. 15. That came more than four months after a Virginia Tech researcher said the Flint River was leaching lead from pipes into people’s homes because the water was not treated for corrosion.