Flint Crisis: Water Giant Sued as Michigan Government Dodges Blame (Video)
The notorious French-owned multinational water corporation Veolia and two other firms are facing a civil lawsuit over “botching” their water management duties in Flint, Michigan, and allowing the lead poisoning crisis to worsen.
The suit, launched Wednesday, shines a light on the disastrous consequences of runaway privatization, including the policy of unelected emergency management, but may also serve to deflect responsibility from Michigan authorities, critics say.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed the lawsuit against Veolia North America and the U.S. engineering firms Lockwood, Andrews & Newman and Leo A. Daly for professional negligence that enabled “the Flint water crisis to occur, continue and worsen” after they were contracted to help bottom line clean water in the city.
Schuette said the companies “failed miserably” and exacerbated the crisis in Flint where “many things went tragically wrong.” The attorney general added that other companies could also face lawsuits and that the damages sought could total up to hundreds of millions of dollars. The progressive advocacy group Progress Michigan argued that the case highlights the failures of conservative policies.
“This lawsuit proves that privatization isn’t the panacea Republicans would like you to believe it is,” Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott said in a statement Wednesday. “This crisis has proved that Republican policies like emergency management, fiscal austerity and privatization are disastrous for our communities.” But the valuable step toward corporate accountability could also be a further way for Michigan governor Rick Snyder to continue to dodge responsibility for the crisis that has been slammed by many as a case of environmental racism.
"The attorney general is using this as a way to deflect blame away from the people who are really responsible, which is the Snyder administration," Scott told Think Progress, stressing that all actors behind the crisis should be held accountable.
Email evidence has shown that Michigan state authorities deliberately stalled action despite knowledge of the water crisis. An investigation in March found that the state was “fundamentally accountable for what happened in Flint,” including the Michigan Department of Environmental Management and unelected emergency managers. Veolia, the water company accused of deliberately dumping sewage into poor Ecuadorean communities, was hired amid the Flint water crisis in February 2015, months before Snyder declared a state of emergency.
The company was tasked with addressing water quality, but knowingly falsely reported that the tap water was safe to drink, according to the lawsuit. Houston-based engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, on the other hand, worked with Flint in 2013 to prepare to treat new water sources, including the Flint River.
The company failed to use corrosion control measures once the water source switch was made and claimed that the water was safe, the lawsuit states. Flint’s water crisis began when an unelected, state-appointed emergency manager switched the water source in April 2014 to the long-polluted and corrosive Flint River. Despite complaints over water quality, residents were told the tap water was safe to drink.
It wasn’t until October 2015 that Flint’s water was switched back to the Lake Huron water system, leaving a massive infrastructure problem of heavily corroded pipes and lead contamination as the legacy of the polluted water that was allowed to flow into Flint homes for 18 months.