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Saturday, September 23, 2017

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DeVos’ ties to Flint water crisis


One of Trump’s most controversial cabinet members, Betsy DeVos, is a more complex public figure than one would think — with supposed connections to the Flint water crisis.

The Flint fiasco began with practical reasons: the city wanted to save money by switching water providers in 2012. The city initially utilized the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department with plans of switching to Karegnondi Water Authority. The services of the original provider were scheduled to end in 2014, with the intention of having something else in place to hold the city over until the pipes were finished.

The Flint River was set as the water source moving forward, even though it has been historically proven to not be safe for consumption. Despite evidence that General Motors had refused to use the Flint River for fear of corroding products and E. coli had been detected in the water supply, the city proceeded.

Not until December 2015, with the help MSNBC correspondent Rachel Maddow, did the news of Flint fully break.

Emergency Mismanagement

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency after multiple residents became sick and children were showing elevated lead levels, which triggered a policy called the Emergency Manager Law.

This law essentially states the governor can appoint an emergency manager if current locally-elected officials fail to prevent a financial crisis. It is typically implemented in cities that are poor and predominantly black, like Flint.

After the state of emergency was declared, a series of emergency managers were appointed and replaced, none of which had any real obligation to the city of Flint. In March 2014, after complaints about the water supply had been made public, then-presiding emergency manager Darnell Earley still opted to utilize the Flint River.

Funding Failure

The nonprofit Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonpartisan group known as an advocate for the emergency manager law. It is also funded, in part, by Betsy DeVos.

The MCPP’s website says that they are both “nonprofit” and “nonpartisan,” and yet it is heavily funded by a partisan figure whose main goal is to privatize the market.

According to Newsweek, the MCPP is a “free market think tank” that gave blanket statement advice for a specific issue based on generalizations. In this instance, the inconsistent leadership supported by the MCPP, and subsequently DeVos, is partly responsible for the water crisis.

In an effort to possibly clear her conscience, DeVos partnered with a Grand Rapids water company called Boxed Water. DeVos appears to be giving back to a city in need, but under the surface, she is profiting from the deliberate product placement.

Boxed Water did donate to the cause, but charity is not sustainable. The company gave 11,520 units of water, equating to 8.61 million gallons, but each resident of Flint’s population of roughly 102,000 needs about 50 gallons a daythe donation from Boxed Water amounts to 84 gallons per person.

Offering Flint donations is the proverbial equivalent of patching a leaky roof with a strip of duct tape: it’s a temporary fix that fails to address the underlying structural damage.

If we want to prevent what is happening in Flint from happening anywhere else, we need to speak out against money-wielding think-tank lobbyists and ensure that state and local policy-makers are truly aligned with the best interests of their constituents, not their bank accounts.

Opinion columnist Dana Jones is a print journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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