The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that Susan Hedman, the Flint, Michigan Regional Administrator will be stepping down as of February 1. They’re assuring residents that the agency will continue focusing on the restoration of the city’s drinking water as a top priority, though local residents aren’t convinced. The city of Flint has been having ongoing issues with their water as far back as June of 2015. Flint Mayor Dayne Walling contacted Hedman at that time requesting assistance for alarming levels of lead in the city’s drinking water. She essentially told him via email that he shouldn’t have been privy to the report showing the increased lead levels, and that another agency would follow up with the city when a proposed solution became available.
In addition to her less than enthusiastic response regarding assisting the city, Hedman was also in hot water for allegedly retaliating against employees who were involved in investigating sexual harassment cases. She submitted her resignation one day after Mayor Walling released over 250 pages of emails relating to the city’s water crisis. The emails were shared in an attempt to shift the focus of angry citizens from Walling’s desk over to the local EPA office. Unfortunately for him, it hasn’t done much to calm that ever-growing angry mob demanding Walling step down from his position as mayor.
Not only has sharing of the emails not magically restored the mayor’s reputation, they have shed light on concerns about the continually increasing toxic lead levels in the city’s drinking water. In typical political fashion, the emails also show the buck has being passed around between city and state government, as no one wants to take responsibility for the ongoing issue and the accompanying reputation damage. Famous environmental activist Erin Brockovich has even stepped in, and told CNN that she feels that the governor of the state of Michigan should be held responsible for the ongoing water crisis. “We gave them a protocol a year ago as well on exactly how to avoid this disaster, and they did not want to listen,” Brockovich told CNN.
The combination of a total lack of ownership and transparency throughout this ever-worsening crisis has not only enraged citizens, but it has completely destroyed any trust they had in their local and national government agencies.
What can the EPA do to recover from this one? For starters, they’re going to have to stop emailing excuses, and start working on a solution to the water crisis. Providing a temporary solution while they fix the community’s water would be a great start. Next, they’re going to have to take some ownership. Getting out there and letting the people know that this was a horrible oversight, and then telling them how it will be remedied will go a long way with the public. People don’t like to be left in the dark, and information shows them that steps are being taken to resolve the problem. Actually fixing the problem instead of hoping it will fade away as the public gets bored with the headlines would also be good for them. This is not going to be an easy reputation crisis to recover from. Many people overlooked a very big problem, and that problem is causing major health concerns for an entire community. The EPA and the Michigan government have a lot of making up to do in order to set things straight with the people of Flint.
Although $28 million in emergency funds have recently been approved, many feel that the effort is too little, too late. At this point, the question is not if there will be additional political fallout from the mishandling of this crisis, but instead we’re left wondering just how far reaching it will be before the issue is resolved. Unfortunately, the citizens of Flint will suffer the most.