LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday released his emails related to Flint’s drinking water and asked President Barack Obama to reconsider the denial of a federal disaster declaration to address the crisis, saying its poses an “imminent and long-term threat” to residents.
Obama declared an emergency — qualifying the city for $5 million — but concluded that the dangerously high lead levels in the city’s water system are not a disaster based on the legal requirement that disaster money is intended for natural events such as fires or floods. Snyder had estimated a need for up to $95 million over a year.>>PDF: Timeline of events in Flint
In his appeal letter, Snyder called the decision a “narrow reading” and likened the crisis to a flood, “given that qualities within the water, over a long term, damaged the city’s infrastructure in ways that were not immediately or easily detectable.”
The crisis “is a natural catastrophe in the sense that lead contamination into water is a natural process,” the governor wrote.
Flint’s water became contaminated with lead when the city switched its water source in 2014 as a cost-cutting measure while under the city was under state financial management.
The governor said the state and city cannot meet all the needs of Flint residents and painted a bleak picture of the city. He predicted that the crisis will lead to years, potentially decades, of health problems and economic losses, as well as infrastructure repairs that neither the city, county nor state can afford.>>Inside woodtv.com:Flint residents say Snyder ‘doesn’t care’
The second-term Republican, who devoted his annual State of the State speech Tuesday to Flint, released the emails late Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m sorry most of all that I let you down,” Snyder said in the address as hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the Capitol. “You deserve better. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know that the buck stops here with me. Most of all, you deserve to know the truth, and I have a responsibility to tell the truth.”
The lead– which can lead to behavior problems and learning disabilities in children and kidney ailments in adults — has left Flint residents unable to drink unfiltered tap water. The National Guard, state employees, local authorities and volunteers have been distributing lead tests, filters and bottled water. Snyder aides pledged that by the end of the week officials would visit every household in Flint to ensure they have water filters.
Democrats said Snyder only recently acknowledged the magnitude of the fiasco, at least three months too late.
“This is the kind of disaster, the kind of failure to deliver basic services that hurts people’s trust in government,” House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver refused to call for Snyder’s resignation while at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., saying investigations should go forward. She said she wants Snyder to give Flint “the services and the money, the funds that we need to address the population.”
“People have said how they want things handled with him,” Weaver said Wednesday. “I’m staying focused on what I need to get from him right now.”
In his speech, Snyder committed $28 million more in the short term to pay for more filters, bottled water, school nurses, intervention specialists, testing and monitoring — on top of $10.6 million allocated in the fall. The money also would replace plumbing fixtures in schools with lead problems and could help Flint with unpaid water bills.
The new round of funding, which requires approval from the GOP-led Legislature, is intended as another short-range step while Snyder works to get a better handle on the long-range costs.
The Michigan House on Wednesday approved Snyder’s request for the $28 million. The measure moves to the Senate for expected action next week.
Snyder plans to make a bigger request in his February budget proposal. He also announced the deployment of roughly 130 more National Guard members to the city.
“To you, the people of Flint, I say tonight as I have before: I am sorry, and I will fix it,” he said.
Michigan’s top environmental regulator Dan Wyant resigned over the failure to ensure that the Flint River water was properly treated to keep lead from pipes from leaching into the water. Elevated blood-lead levels were found in two city zip codes.
The U.S. Justice Department is helping the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate, and GOP state Attorney General Bill Schuette has opened his own probe, which could focus on whether environmental laws were broken or if there was official misconduct. The EPA is under scrutiny for its role, too.
——Associated Press Writer Jesse Holland contributed from Washington.