FLINT, MI — U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee says he’s pushing representatives of the federal government, including the White House, to settle pending civil lawsuits filed by Flint residents against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the city’s water crisis.
“Government failed at every level” during the water crisis, Kildee said. An acknowledgment of that “ought to come from every level of government.”
Unlike the state of Michigan, city of Flint, McLaren Regional Medical Center and Rowe Professional Services, the EPA has so far declined to settle lawsuits against it for allowing the water crisis to linger even though the agency had information that there were problems with lead in Flint drinking water.
EPA had the authority to step in to aid in the water emergency much earlier than it did, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
The EPA’s Office of Inspector General also said in 2016 that the federal government should have acted sooner to warn Flint residents that their drinking water was contaminated with lead.
Miguel Del Toral, a water specialist at the EPA’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago at the time, wrote a memo in June 2015, laying out the problems with Flint water but the final version of his memo left out his criticism that Flint was failing to follow federal regulations on corrosion control chemicals and testing for lead.
Susan Hedman, EPA’s former regional director, resigned in 2016 amidst mounting public outrage over the federal government’s slow response to the water emergency.
“Sovereign immunity notwithstanding, the federal government has some responsibility for what took place,” said Kildee, who said he’s spoken with representatives of the EPA, the Department of Justice, and the White House. “EPA had the information it could have acted on.”
EPA officials have said little about the lawsuits that name the agency and the potential for a settlement for several years.
In addition to EPA, contracted Flint water consultants and bond underwriters have also so far declined to settle cases in which they are named.
In December, EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede detailed the federal government’s commitment to Flint in a news conference but he would not comment on whether the federal government would be willing to settle its lawsuits.
The agency filed a motion to dismiss cases against it in federal court, but a year ago U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy denied the motion, allowing a federal tort claim to continue.
The Federal Tort Claims Act permits plaintiffs to obtain compensation from the United States for the negligence of its employees, but EPA has argued it was immune from the claims of negligence and willful misrepresentation raised by residents.
Kildee said the key to a federal settlement will be the involvement of senior officials in the White House.
“Some direction has to come from the White House to get this money moving in the right direction,” he said.