Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Monday the appointment of a special counsel to aid his office’s investigation into whether laws were broken regarding Flint’s lead-tainted water. It is unclear at this point if the probe could result in criminal or civil charges. Flint’s public works director, Michigan’s top environmental regulator, a state spokesman and a high-ranking federal regulator have resigned in connection with the crisis. Two other state environmental officials have been suspended pending an investigation.
A look at various investigations taking place:
MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL
Schuette announced the inquiry Jan. 15 — 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 — after declining to investigate earlier. He said new information that came to light around New Year’s prompted him to open a probe.
Special counsel Todd Flood, appointed Monday, mostly declined to detail which criminal or civil laws could be reviewed for potential violations, though he did cite prohibitions against misconduct by public officials. The city of Flint was under emergency state financial management when it switched its water source from the Detroit system.
GOVERNOR’S TASK FORCE
An independent panel appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder determined that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was primarily responsible for the water contamination because it failed to require Flint to treat its water for corrosion after switching from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. A final report is expected early this year. The task force last week recommended that the state ask the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help assess an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County that some experts suspect is linked to the water. At least 87 cases, including nine deaths, were confirmed during a 17-month period.
MICHIGAN AUDITOR GENERAL
The auditor said in a preliminary report that the DEQ should have required Flint to treat its water to keep lead from leaching from service lines into people’s homes but did not purposely mislead federal officials about the lack of corrosion control. State officials interpreted federal rules to mean Flint could make the transition and then test the new water for lead over two six-month intervals to determine potential corrosion treatment. In February, a DEQ water supervisor told the EPA that Flint had a corrosion control program in place. But in April, an EPA official confirmed through another DEQ official that the city was not practicing corrosion treatment, according to emails. The EPA apparently interpreted the word “program” to mean treatment, while the DEQ meant it as testing to determine if corrosion controls would be needed in the future, according to the auditor.
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
The EPA announced in November an audit of how Michigan enforces drinking water rules, and plans to identify ways to possibly strengthen state oversight. The Justice Department this month confirmed it is helping the EPA, where one high-ranking official has resigned. It is unclear if the U.S. attorney’s involvement is limited to the audit or is broader. A state Democratic lawmaker on Monday asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch a probe, saying Schuette waited too long and questioning whether the Republican’s investigation will be impartial.
EPA OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
The EPA’s internal watchdog announced plans last week to examine the circumstances of, and the agency’s response to, the water contamination. The office plans to visit Michigan and the EPA’s regional headquarters in Chicago.
MICHIGAN CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION
The commission said Monday it would hold hearings to explore whether the civil rights of Flint residents were violated during the switch to the Flint River and subsequent contamination. A majority of Flint residents are black. The first hearing could be held within 30 days.
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