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U-M Experts Comment on Charges Filed in Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Ag Connection - 01/15/2021

University of Michigan experts commented after charges were filed against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and several other former state and city officials in connection with the Flint water crisis.

Snyder appeared in a Genesee County court on Thursday morning and pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel revealed dozens of charges against the former officials on Thursday, including involuntary manslaughter, extortion, perjury and obstruction of justice.

Sara Hughes is an assistant professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability. She studies urban policy and politics, including issues related to safe and affordable drinking water, urban responses to climate change and environmental justice in cities.

"Flint residents affected by drinking water contamination have been asking for years for accountability and justice, and many see the charges being brought against former Gov. Snyder as an important step," she said. "The charges are also historic in the sense that this is the first time a Michigan governor or former governor has faced charges related to actions taken while in office.

"The fact that these charges are being brought forward speaks to the severity of the water crisis and the desire to hold state officials accountable for the role they played in facilitating and prolonging the delivery of contaminated drinking water in Flint."

Paul Mohai is a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and one of the founders of the U.S. environmental justice movement. He serves on the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, which advises the governor on environmental issues impacting low-income households and people of color.

"The Flint water crisis was a human-made disaster that resulted in the poisoning of the water of a city of 100,000 people. Flint is also a majority minority city. To date, no one has been held to account," he said. "The decisions leading to the crisis, the government's response and the lack of accountability have raised many questions about the role racism has played in Flint. A tenet of environmental justice is to correct the harms and to hold those responsible accountable. Everyone should be given due process, but the attorney general's charges are a step in the right direction."

Benjamin Pauli is an adjunct instructor at U-M's School for Environment and Sustainability and assistant professor of social science at Kettering University in Flint. His research centers on social movements, political ideologies, environmental justice and water. He is the author of "Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis," which examines the role of local water activists in exposing and responding to Flint's water quality and affordability crises.

Pauli is a Flint resident and president of the board of the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, a local environmental justice organization. Since 2019, he has also been a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council as a representative of the academic community.

"Flint residents have always looked upon the criminal prosecution of officials implicated in the Flint water crisis with a mixture of hope and skepticism," he said. "When Attorney General Dana Nessel dropped all criminal charges in 2019, it seemed like confirmation that the state could not be counted upon to bring justice to the people of Flint.

"The news that the AG's office has filed fresh charges against several officials, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, has prompted a fresh wave of cautious optimism. As more is learned about these charges, and the evidence that supports them, we must keep going back to Flint residents themselves to determine whether the criminal proceedings and outcomes accord with residents' own conceptions of what justice looks like."

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