(KUTV) Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) broke his silence on Friday, defending his decision to not provide $220 million in aid to handle the Flint Michigan Water Crisis.
"What is happening to the people of Flint, Michigan is a man-made disaster," Lee said. "Congress has special mechanisms for emergency spending when it is needed, but to date Michigan's governor has not asked us for any, nor have Michigan's Senators proposed any. Contrary to media reports, there is no federal 'aid package' for Flint even being considered."
The Senate legislation is meant to federalize the nation's water infrastructure financing system, Lee said in a statement.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has lifted a hold he placed on bipartisan legislation to address the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where lead-contaminated pipes have created a public health emergency. Since then the only senator to still stand in the way has been Lee.
Senators had reached a tentative deal a day earlier for a $220 million package to fix and replace the city's lead-contaminated pipes, make other infrastructure improvements and bolster lead-prevention programs nationwide.
Cruz and Lee initially objected to a quick vote on the deal, delaying Senate consideration of the bill until at least next week.
A spokesman for the Texas senator, Phil Novack, said Thursday night that Cruz had reviewed the bill and will not prevent it from moving forward in the Senate.
Read Lee's full statement below:
What is happening to the people of Flint, Michigan is a man-made disaster," Lee said. "Congress has special mechanisms for emergency spending when it is needed, but to date Michigan's governor has not asked us for any, nor have Michigan's Senators proposed any. Contrary to media reports, there is no federal 'aid package' for Flint even being considered.
And for a good reason: federal aid is not needed at this time. The state of Michigan has an enormous budget surplus this year and a large rainy-day fund, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Governor Snyder has requested $200 million of that from the state legislature for Flint this year. Relief and repair efforts are already in the works. The people and policymakers of Michigan right now have all the government resources they need to fix the problem. And those public resources are being augmented every day by the generosity of individuals, businesses, labor unions, and civic organizations of every stripe from across the country. The only thing Congress is contributing to the Flint recovery is political grandstanding.
What's really happening here is that Washington politicians are using the crisis in Flint as an excuse to funnel taxpayer money to their own home states, and trying to sneak it through the Senate without proper debate and amendment. I respectfully object.
Auditors say Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality made crucial errors when overseeing a switch in water sources for the city of Flint that resulted in a lead contamination crisis.
A state auditor general's report released Friday says department staff failed to require Flint to treat its water with anti-corrosive chemicals when it began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014. The city had stopped purchasing Lake Huron water from Detroit to save money.
The corrosive river water scraped lead from aging pipes, which tainted water in homes and schools.
DEQ acknowledges its mistakes but says federal regulations on lead pollution are vague. The audit says the rules may not be strong enough.
It also says the department should improve its lead testing procedures and that it doesn't have enough money to adequately monitor water supplies.
Crews in Flint are starting to dig up old lead pipes connecting water mains to homes as part of efforts to allay the city's contaminated water crisis.
Mayor Karen Weaver says work starting Friday will target lead service lines at homes in neighborhoods with the highest number of children under 6 years old, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and homes where water tests indicate high levels of lead at the tap.
On Thursday, a crew dug up a service line leading to a Flint home as part of a separate effort funded by group of private, charitable, business and community groups.
Also Friday, Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan is set to lead a delegation of 25 members of congress to hear from Flint residents.