EPA had the legal authority to intervene in the Flint, Mich., water crisis months months before it actually did, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general.
EPA IG Arthur Elkins said, “the EPA’s Region 5 had the authority and sufficient information to issue an emergency order to protect Flint residents from lead-contaminated water” under the Safe Drinking Water Act as early as June 2015.
“However, we found that EPA’s Region 5 did not issue an emergency order because the region saw the state’s actions as a jurisdictional bar,” Elkins said in a podcast, summarizing his investigation into EPA’s handling of the Flint water crisis. “In other words, people at the federal agency believed they were unable to do anything because the state was already taking action.”
The IG’s report found EPA could have intervened to ameliorate Flint’s water problems months before. The IG’s office said the agency can intervene “if the state action is not protecting the public from the contaminants in a timely fashion.”
Michigan officials admitted the problem in November 2015 after months of denying anything was wrong with Flint’s water. EPA officials had known for months Flint’s water had elevated lead levels before state officials admitted any wrongdoing.
EPA issued an emergency order over Flint’s water in January 2016 — but only after news reports came out showing EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman downplayed findings that Flint’s water was tainted.