There but by the grace of God go I.
The more I learn about what’s happened to the people of Flint, Michigan, the more those words come to mind.
It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to think that something like what’s going on in Flint could happen here.
In case you’re unaware, in 2014 a so-called emergency manager decided that Flint could save some money by switching its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River.
The Flint River was notoriously polluted, but never mind. There was money to be saved. And the government’s first priority was to cut whatever costs it could.
Well, as we now know, the Flint River water was so corrosive it ate through the town’s lead-lined water pipes. As soon as people started using it they could tell something was terribly wrong. The water was discolored. It smelled bad. It tasted awful.
Their complaints were ignored. And when a local pediatrician went public with news that children were showing alarming levels of lead in their systems, state officials did everything they could to discredit her.
But the doctor was right. It looks now as though thousands of kids have been put at risk for the irreversible effects of lead poisoning — brain damage. The scale of the environmental crisis in Flint is staggering.
And Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, the person responsible for policies that put the events surrounding Flint’s water supply in motion, has apologized. Several times.
Snyder is serving his second term as governor. He’s the only sitting governor in the country who is a certified public accountant. Before deciding to run for governor, he was a top executive with Gateway computers and a venture capitalist.
Snyder ran his first gubernatorial campaign as a political outsider, a man who could run state government like a business. At the time, he seemed inspired by Indiana’s Mitch Daniels and, like Daniels, he has placed an almost holy premium on the importance of accruing a state budget surplus and rainy day fund.
That rainy day has come to Flint.
Flint, you see, is what happens when people who claim that “government can’t do anything right” take over the government. They create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and incompetent — in Flint’s case, even dangerous — government is the result.
Now, of course, the sour irony is that they only thing that can save Flint is government action. The cost of services to attend to the ongoing needs of Flint’s children will saddle Michigan with a kind of debt that is finally incalculable.
The ominous thing is that what happened in Flint could happen anywhere. Think about our outdated infrastructure. Think about our degraded environment. Think about a state government that seems to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
There’s a bill in our current legislature, HB1082, that would limit the power of communities to impose extra environmental regulations. Such regulations might accelerate the cleanup of coal ash, place restrictions on factory farms or better deal with the storage of toxic chemicals.
Accidents, in other words, waiting to happen.
There but by the Grace of God…