by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Crimes against humanity have been committed in Flint, Michigan. Punishment must fit the crime. “It is time to remove all political actors both in the federal and state governments from public service and refer them to DOJ for criminal prosecution.” That includes the EPA, “an agency governed by fear, recrimination, retaliation and discrimination.”
McCarthy and Snyder to Testify before House Oversight Committee on the Poisoning of Flint’s Children
by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“Had Isis poisoned a US water supply it would be decried as an act of terror with a weapon of mass destruction.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder are scheduled to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday, March 17, to provide testimony on the poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s water. Public outcry has finally empowered Congress to demand that McCarthy and Snyder provide an accounting of their role in the poisoning of thousands of citizens. The essential question for this Hearing is the same as that of the Watergate Hearing: what did they know and when did they know it? EPA electronic traffic between the former Region 5 Administrator and McCarthy must be subpoenaed. McCarthy and Snyder had perhaps hoped that the public would be silenced with sending former EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman careening under the bus.
The Flint water crisis came to light in late 2015, due to activism by local residents who were exasperated by government inaction on all levels – local, state and federal. The government, in general, ignored the persistent cries of the local community for help and for answers. However, the ultimate authority for water regulations rests with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Water Act. In fact, the CWA provides for criminal penalties for violations of this Act. Flint, Michigan falls within the federal jurisdiction of Region 5 and, until her resignation in February in disgrace, was under EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman.
Despite the congressional outrage and eloquent pontification for criminal prosecution – the reality is, to date not one official has been charged with a crime.
Had Isis poisoned a US water supply it would be decried as an act of terror with a weapon of mass destruction. Why not hold US officials to the same standard?
“What did they know and when did they know it?”
As I noted in a recent, BAR article, the government knows that lead is a potent, irreversible neurotoxin – especially in children. That it chose to ignore scientific evidence and straight up lie to the victims with reassurances that their water was safe is a crime against humanity. Yet it comes as no surprise to those familiar with the EPA’s history of ignoring the public health of communities of color and retaliating against EPA whistleblowers who attempt to expose this negligence. EPA, mandated as the public's last line of defense, failed the people. Yet again.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was aware that there were problems with Hedman's leadership prior to the Flint crisis. The House Oversight Committee confronted EPA Head McCarthy on Hedman’s lack of accountability in taking action against sexual predators who attacked young research fellows.
As House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz lamented, “A predator was fed a stead diet of interns.” Chairman Chaffetz added “I have two young daughters and I would never allow them to work at the EPA” which he termed as a-one of the most toxic environments in the federal government.
McCarthy's testimony is chilling. Rather that call in police to arrest the predator the administrator testified that the agency followed protocol through proper channels and then let the offender retire. 10 more female interns were harassed while the agency was mired in protocol.
McCarthy's testimony during that Hearing provides compelling evidence of a systemic problem within the agency. With all the resources at her disposal – a chief of staff, Human Resources, the Office of Civil Rights, the Inspector General and so on – the collective wisdom of the entire senior management team failed to protect the interns who were under attack from a Senior Executive Service (SES) predator. At the highest level the agency is so wedded to protecting their own that they – at best – were blind to a criminal in their ranks or worse, they were indifferent to the harm their inaction was causing subordinate interns. This is the entrenched culture that underpinned the Flint crisis and, if left unaddressed, guarantees future environmental tragedies.
“The EPA is rife with managers who have been allowed to engage in criminal behavior without fear of accountability.”
This is a sickeningly familiar story at the EPA, an agency governed by fear, recrimination, retaliation and discrimination. It is likely that EPA Administrator McCarthy will argue that the Flint disaster was the result of "a few bad apples" and that with Administrator Hedman's resignation the problem has been addressed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The EPA is rife with managers who have been allowed to engage in criminal behavior without fear of accountability. Far from dealing with root causes, McCarthy stands on protocol over the well being of her own employees. She will always side with her in-house group of managers who are in bed with their corporate masters – this is one of the lessons of the Flint poisoning crisis.
It is time to remove all political actors both in the federal and state governments from public service and refer them to DOJ for criminal prosecution. This is an essential first step in cleaning house that is way overdue. If we are serious about NO MORE FLINTS, the first step in remedying the problem is to clean up the corruption in the agency and state government charged with protecting the health of our communities and our precious environment.
However, the lesson that we fail to comprehend from one generation to the next is that power does not reside in the halls of Congress or in the federal government, it resides with the people. We the people will determine the course of history.
Please attend the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Hearing on the Flint Poisoning Water Crisis:
March 17, 2016 – 9am - Thursday
2154 Rayburn House Office Building
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
Please meet us at 8am in front of the Hearing chambers.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the Hands Up Coalition, DC.