By Charles Mueller

What happened in Flint, Michigan over the last 17 months was criminal and people should be going to jail.  There were so many failures by so many different actors at so many different levels of leadership in this story that it makes your head spin when you finally realize what happened.  The governor’s move to switch the town of Flint’s water supply without ensuring appropriate precautions were in place was criminal.  The inability for the leadership at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to guarantee standard corrosion prevention and control measures were implemented during the switch was criminal.  The failure of the EPA Region 5 Administrator to not see this coming and not act swiftly on it when the literal data was dropped on her doorstep was criminal.  The situation is a stark reminder that it doesn’t matter how good our laws are or how perfect our regulations are drafted, these things will never be able to protect the public from the harm caused when bad leaders make bad choices.

How did this happen?  How could such terrible failures occur?  Were the regulations unclear or was the system itself was just broken?  There are 49 other states and 9 other Regional EPA administrators who prevent such failures everyday following the same laws and rules the leaders charged with protecting the citizens of Flint, Michigan swore an oath to uphold.  What does that say?  The damage this failure has caused is immeasurable.  The actions of these people will lead to deaths of unborn children because mothers chose to drink tap water instead of bottled water while pregnant.  It will lead to irreversible brain damage in children who were just trying to replenish their thirst after playing hide-n-seek outside with friends.  Who knows, maybe the next great American thinker, next great American innovator or the next great American leader was just lost as a result of these bad choices by bad leaders.  Justice must be served and measures must be taken to give confidence back to the public that such a travesty will never happen again.

Our Constitution says those elected and appointed to positions of leadership are supposed protect the public by doing three things: 1) create policies that establish the right boundaries for society; 2) enforce these boundaries in a way that is rational and fair; and 3) make sure the people have due process when accused of crossing these boundaries.  Our laws and regulations describe how the leaders we elect and appoint are supposed to create this safe and prosperous environment.  While we should always strive to use science, technology and lessons of the past to craft the best policies, we will never be able to write words that prevent bad leaders from making bad choices.  This is the ultimate lesson to be learned from what has taken place in Flint, Michigan. 

The power to govern over the American people is an awesome power gifted to those leaders we elect and appoint to our federal, state and local governments.  When our leaders fail to uphold their sworn duties they must be held accountable to ensure the American people can trust their government.  Heads should be rolling in Flint, Michigan and people should be in handcuffs. 


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The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is an independent, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit public policy research institute. The Institute identifies and aggressively shepherds discussion on key science and technology issues facing our society. From these discussions and forums, we develop meaningful science and technology policy options and ensure their implementation at the intersection of business and government.


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