In Flint criminal charges, is Schuette indicting ... himself?

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Following the news that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is charging four more people in the Flint water crisis investigation — including two of Flint's emergency managers — the Detroit Free Press brings up an interesting point: Schuette's office was the the one that, in part, approved the administrative consent order issued by the Department of Environmental Quality central to the crisis.

The administrative consent order was signed by Assistant Attorney General Robert Reichel of the AG's environment, natural resources and agriculture division. But as the Free Press points out, in his investigation, Schuette and investigators are saying the MDEQ consent order never should have been issued in the first place, because "it was based on a 'sham' environmental calamity" manufactured in part by the former Flint emergency managers.

From the Free Press:

Schuette alleges that Flint, which was under a state-appointed emergency manager at the time, was unable to borrow its share of the money to participate in the $285-million Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline to Lake Huron. The project was being pushed by Genesee County and Flint wanted to leave the Detroit system, which had been supplying it with treated Lake Huron water from Lake Huron, in favor of the new pipeline, which would provide the city with untreated Lake Huron water. By using an ordered environmental cleanup at a sludge lagoon used by the Flint Water Treatment Plant and tying that project to the KWA development, officials were able to use the administrative consent order to keep the KWA debt from counting against Flint's almost non-existent borrowing capacity. Schuette alleges the "sham" administrative consent order, which one of his assistants signed off on, also had the effect of forcing Flint to get its drinking water from the Flint River — with disastrous results — until the KWA project was completed.

So why did Schuette's office OK a consent order that Schuette is now saying never should have been issued in the first place?

A spokeswoman for Schuette says Reichel may have approved the order based on faulty information from the MDEQ.

"While I can't comment on the trial strategy going forward, we were aware of this when charges were filed," spokeswoman Andrea Bitely told the Free Press. Assistant Attorney Generals rely on department experts like the DEQ in signing off on such documents. "If a department provides false or inaccurate information as the basis for a document like this, the AAG would have no way of knowing," she said.

(Another question raised in the article is why Flint was approved to leave the Detroit water system in the first place, since both cities were under state-appointed emergency managers and it hurt Detroit financially to lose Flint as a water customer.)

The charges are certainly raising some interesting questions. Are they an indictment of the emergency management law? Are they merely an indictment of emergency managers? Is Schuette unintentionally indicting ... himself?


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