WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government is investing more money this year to help local governments improve their water systems, and about $80 million will go to Michigan next week, President Barack Obama told the nation’s mayors on Thursday.
The city of Flint, Michigan, has generated national attention because of high levels of lead in the water supply. The city’s water source had been changed from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in a cost-cutting move and the water was not properly treated to keep lead from leaching into the supply.
Obama said the additional money for cities came as a result of the bipartisan budget agreement that Congress passed in December. The White House said the administration moved to make sure the money is available to Michigan much more quickly than normal, though it is unclear how much, if any, of the money would go to Flint. States use the federal funding to make low-cost loans to local governments for drinking water and wastewater construction projects and have significant freedom in how they prioritize the projects.
A spokesman for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said he was grateful for the federal funding to repair infrastructure but gave no immediate indication on what it specifically could mean for Flint.
“We remain focused on the people of Flint as we look for federal resources for our efforts to address immediate and long-term challenges the residents will face in a variety of areas,” Dave Murray said in a statement.
Snyder, who has apologized for his administration’s role in the emergency, has asked that Obama approve a federal disaster declaration to help bring in millions of dollars more to address Flint’s water problem. Instead, Obama declared an emergency rather than a disaster, qualifying the city for $5 million. The White House concluded that disaster money is intended for natural events such as fires or floods. In an appeal letter, Snyder called the decision a “narrow reading” of the law.
Obama told the mayors that he had met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver earlier in the week. He described the problem in Flint as an “inexcusable situation with respect to the drinking water there.”
“Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they’re drinking in American cities,” he said. “That’s not something that we should accept.”
Obama spoke the same day that a regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency resigned in connection with the drinking water crisis in Flint. EPA chief Gina McCarthy issued an emergency order directing state and city officials to take actions to protect public health.
Obama spoke to members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Members were at the White House as part of the group’s annual winter conference in Washington.
Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.