PODCAST: Flint, the Environment and Civil Rights

After nearly eight months, the official presidential declaration of emergency in Flint, Mich., came to an end a few days ago. (Although things aren’t quite back to normal there—residents are still being told not to drink unfiltered tap water.)

With the benefit of a little distance, people in Flint and elsewhere are now beginning to think about who should be held accountable for one of the worst water quality crises in history.

As Bloomberg BNA reporter Rachel Leven found in a two-part series on environmental justice (which you can read here and here), some are pointing the finger at the actions—or, rather, the inaction—of the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights.

The office takes a notoriously long time to investigate complaints from the public, sometimes leaving cases open for decades.

Rachel found that at least one Flint resident submitted a civil rights complaint about water quality—though not specifically about lead—to the office in early 2015, several months before the scandal broke in the media. The Flint resident didn’t even receive an initial reply back from the office until more than a year later. It still hasn’t officially opened an investigation into the Flint crisis.

But Rachel says that pinning all the blame for Flint on the Office of Civil Rights would be too simplistic—not to mention unfair and inaccurate.

For the latest episode of our environmental policy podcast Parts Per Billion, we spoke to Rachel about what the office could have done, how it’s trying to reform itself and about how people are being held accountable for the city’s tainted water.

You can read more of our reporting on the environmental justice at our blog and in our publication Daily Environment Report. If you liked what you heard in the podcast, sign up for a free trial.

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