Under New Senate Bill, Flint Funding Watered Down
The Michigan primary has been over for weeks now, and with it, so is the focus on Flint, Michigan by the press, by the larger public and even by candidates running to be President. Previously showcased as the issue du jour by Secretary Clinton, which included appearances with embattled Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, local news outlets now accuse Mrs. Clinton of “forgetting about Flint.” This declaration represents Mayor Weaver’s biggest fears come to light as she revealed her concern that the national focus on Flint’s crisis has waned in the past month and put at risk a multimillion-dollar federal aid package for the city’s recovery.
We now know that an aid package was not just put at risk, it was flat out removed from the recent Senate Energy Bill that passed with bi-partisan support. The bill originally would have included an amendment, introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), providing Flint with nearly $600 million in aid to clean up tainted water and repair crumbling infrastructure that has been neglected for decades. The bill was held up by Republican opposition and, at one point, the Democrats stood firm and placed a procedural hold on the bill, thereby blocking it from full consideration on the Senate floor.
While D.C. already abbreviates the District of Columbia, it could be argued that it should also abbreviate the way Senate Democrats operate, that is, Democratic Capitulation. In a move all too familiar to many of us in the Climate Justice fight, Senate Democrats again agreed to get very little by giving away too much. Similar to when they took scraps of renewable energy credits in exchange for lifting the Crude Oil Export Ban, this time they accepted an energy package that not only included no money for Flint, but also allows for expedited exports of natural gas and approval of natural gas infrastructure like pipelines and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities – and that’s just a fracking shame.
Now to be fair, Senate Democrats agreed to remove their demands for Flint funds when Climate-Denier-in-Chief, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) promised to include funding in a separate bill for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Now on the surface, WRDA actually looks pretty good, there are lots of numbers and money amounts that are attractive and seem to indicate that Senate Democrats actually got a great deal. But as one reads the fine print, it’s clear that WRDA is nothing more than a specious exercise that will do little to nothing to help the situation in Flint.
For instance, while the bill includes $1.4 billion in funding to assist small and disadvantaged communities comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and $300 million for infrastructure improvements, these funds are to be spread across numerous cities and municipalities. And, as we have learned, there are communities literally all across the country with inefficient and unsafe drinking water infrastructure that affects 100s of thousands. Simply put, the funds promised under WRDA are simply not going to cut it, not for Flint and not for the many communities nationwide suffering the same plight.
Once again, it’s going to be up to us, activists, environmental justice champions with assistance from Mainstream, Big Green environmental organizations, who still seem resistant to including racial justice as part of their overall platform, to keep the issue of environmental racism front and center. Because if the Senate Democrats are supposed to be the vanguards of environmental equity and justice for Flint, after this recent demonstration of capricious capitulation, Flint’s future is just as cloudy as their lead tainted water.