Some of you may be familiar with the saying “a canary in the coal mine.” The saying has its roots in a real tradition; miners, to avoid dying from dangerous gasses like carbon dioxide, would take a canary into the mine with them. If the canary died, then the miners knew it was time to leave.
Flint, Michigan is the canary to ALEC’s legislative practices. The city’s not dead yet — many Flintstones will sneer at you if you suggest it and there’s a strong sense of local pride despite the circumstances — but there’s no doubt that the recent debacle with Flint’s water is a red flag.
This mine is not safe.
Emergency Management System
The story of lead in Flint’s water is one that, by now, has been repeated multiple times. But some might not be sure why this happened, and in order to get a handle on just what went wrong, it’s necessary to turn the clock back to 2010.
In 2010, Governor Jennifer Granholm was replaced by ALEC puppet Rick Snyder. Snyder had a slick presentation and marketed himself as a different type of Republican. After he won, it wasn’t long before the theocratic element came out, and he signed a law banning benefits for domestic partners. The intention was to punish gay people since at the time — December 2011 — legal gay marriage was still a lifetime away.
Snyder signed the “Right to Work for Less” law, in the heart of union country. He also signed into law anti-choice legislation making it more difficult to get much needed abortive surgery.
One of the more controversial pieces of legislation, however, was his emergency financial manager system. The system, which he signed into law in 2012, allowed him to appoint individuals to run public assets that were experiencing a “financial crisis.” These leaders were unelected officials, and replace officials that were elected. It wasn’t just cities; these individuals took over schools as well.
By 2013, Snyder had managed to disenfranchise more than half the black population of the state far more effectively than Voter ID programs by using his emergency manager system to run several largely African-American cities.
Flint, Michigan was one of those cities.
There’s no question that the emergency financial manager program is ALEC-influenced. The purpose was to attack the pensions of state employees, and as a consequence, they poisoned an entire city.
In 2013, Snyder, using the powers of legal dictatorship, appointed Darnel Earley as the emergency manager for the city of Flint. Earley ended Flint’s contract with Detroit Water and Sewage in 2014, and then switched the source of the water to the Flint River.
Ever since, Flint’s water system has been bedeviled with problems.
The lead poisoning is the latest in a long line of consequences that link directly to the Republican legislation and Rick Snyder himself.
The water from the Flint River is not the cleanest water in the world, and while not a superfund site, there are cleaner lakes in China (Snyder should know; that’s where he spends most of his time). The water is also corrosive, and that corrosive water, combined with an inadequate treatment plant and aging infrastructure, created the current lead problem the city is experiencing.
These are things that Earley should’ve considered before he started his real life game of SimCity. But he didn’t, and he didn’t have to. He had dictatorial fiat, courtesy of Snyder, and was interested only in one thing: Austerity, Eurocrat-style.
And while study after study showed the water wasn’t healthy, the governor’s office was running a classic game of obfuscation and denial. Finally, with the release of the most recent study, the governor’s office was forced to admit that, maybe, just maybe, the water wasn’t safe for humans to drink.
Now the process of trying to fix the problem begins. Flint was originally supposed to draw water from the river until it could establish another connection with a pipeline in 2016. However, before that, the state will have to spend a fortune in a complicated operation to replace the pipes.
Flint will persist. But Flint’s role as the canary to ALEC’s legislation couldn’t be clearer, and everyone needs to pay attention.
It’s time to abandon this mine.
Feature image via Flint Stones facebook group