Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed an order last week to launch a whole-of-government response to a lead water crisis in Benton Harbor three years after residents began pleading for state and federal aid.
Whitmer signed an order on Thursday expediting water line replacements in Benton Harbor to replace corroded lead lines contaminating the water of thousands of residents. Local leaders and officials have been pushing the state for such a response since discovering the lead issue in 2018. Whitmer has governed the state for much of that period, taking office in January of 2019.
“Every Michigander deserves safe drinking water, and every community deserves lead-free pipes,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I’m proud to sign an Executive Directive today that will pursue a whole-of-government approach to protect access to safe drinking water right now and work tirelessly to replace every lead service line in Benton Harbor as soon as possible.”
“I cannot imagine the stress that moms and dads in Benton Harbor are under as they emerge from a pandemic, work hard to put food on the table, pay the bills, and face a threat to the health of their children,” she continued. “That’s why we are also expediting the timeline to replace lead service lines in an effort to ensure that 100% of the pipes are lead-free in the next 18 months. We will not rest until the job is done and every parent feels confident to give their kid a glass of water knowing that it is safe.”
James Craig, former chief of the Detroit Police Department who is challenging Whitmer for the governorship in 2022, blasted Whitmer.
“After failing to take action for nearly three years, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is now attempting to cover-up her inaction with the Benton Harbor Water Crisis,” Craig said in a statement to The Daily Wire. “I am concerned for families in Benton Harbor, who are now appealing to the federal government because Whitmer ignored them for so long. It’s no coincidence she’s finally trying to address this crisis before re-election, because for Whitmer, it’s politics over people.”
Whitmer’s response came after local activists had begun to reach out to the federal government to step in where the state and city had failed, according to ABC 7 Chicago. As the outlet reported:
For three years, measurements have detected lead levels well above 15 parts per billion, the federal threshold for taking action. Following the 2014-15 Flint water crisis, Michigan put in place the nation’s strongest lead-in-water regulations. But advocacy groups, including the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, recently urged the Biden administration to help – alleging that city and state actions, including corrosion-control measures, had been poorly implemented and ineffective.
“We never thought it would take this long, 3 whole years,” Reverend Edward Pinkney, president and chairman of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, told FOX 17 earlier in the week.
The ongoing crisis in Benton Harbor is reminiscent of the Flint water crisis of 2014 and 2015 under former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R). In Benton Harbor, the state has made slow advances toward taking care of the city’s toxic lead problem. Natural Resources Defense Council senior policy advocate Cyndi Roper told FOX 17 that the Whitmer administration did begin making serious attempts to address the issue until after Benton Harbor had reached out to the Biden administration.
“The state agency wasn’t really responding to the fact that people were drinking lead-contaminated water. They were really focused on tweaking the chemicals at the treatment plant to see if they could keep the levels of lead down that was being released into the water, and they weren’t,” Roper said.
Benton Harbor community leaders met with members of Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency on September 9 over an emergency petition for aid.
“Since the petition was filed with the EPA, the state has started to take action,” Roper said. “It has been really piecemeal. It hasn’t been a comprehensive response.”