Less than one month after the attacks of Sept. 11, a senior FBI official, Ronald Dick, told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, “Due to the vital importance of water to all life forms … the FBI considers all threats to attack the water supply as serious threats.” In 2003, a UPI article reported that an al-Qaida operative “(does not rule out) using Sarin gas and poisoning drinking water in U.S. and Western cities.’” Where the terrorists have failed to mount any attack on a water supply, the Michigan state government has succeeded. In the city of Flint, lead-poisoned water has been piped into homes and offices since 2014, causing widespread illness and potentially permanent brain damage among its youngest residents.
Michigan has one of the most severe “emergency manager” laws in the country, allowing the governor to appoint an unelected agent to take over local governments when those locales or institutions have been deemed to be in a “financial emergency.” Republican Gov. Rick Snyder pushed for and obtained two bills that strengthened the law, and has used it aggressively to impose his version of fiscal austerity on cities like Detroit, Benton Harbor, several large school districts and, now most notoriously, on Flint. In every case but one, the emergency manager has taken over cities that are majority African-American. The emergency manager is granted sweeping powers to override local, democratically elected governments and to make cuts to budgets, sell public property, cancel or renegotiate labor contracts and essentially govern like a dictator.
In April 2014, Darnell Earley, the fourth of five Flint emergency managers appointed by Snyder, unilaterally decided to switch Flint’s water source from Detroit’s water system, with water from Lake Huron that they had been using for 50 years, to the long-contaminated Flint River.
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