Michigan's Whitmer under fire for sluggish response to Benton Harbor lead water crisis

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has come under fire for her sluggish response to the water crisis in the city of Benton Harbor.

The community of Benton Harbor, Michigan, is currently without safe water due to decades-old lead pipes poisoning the water supply and the state and local governments’ slow-moving responses to the crisis, advocates say. 

City commissioners on Tuesday unanimously declared a state of emergency and empowered Mayor Marcus Muhammad to lead Benton Harbor’s response. Whitmer visited the city the same day. 

Rev. Edward Pinkney, who leads the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, told Fox News in a phone interview that Whitmer and Muhammad should have responded to the crisis “three years ago.”

“The city government, they failed us, and the state government failed us. They failed the community,” Pinkney told Fox News. “For three years, they did exactly nothing. For three whole years, they did exactly nothing.”

The reverend said that it took Whitmer “three years” to do something about the crisis, and Whitmer’s “damage control” only came about after his group filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and cited the fact that an election year is approaching. 

He also said that if the group had not filed the EPA petition, it would have taken “another two or three years before someone actually responded to this.”

The Whitmer administration’s handling of the Benton Harbor crisis has caught the state legislature’s attention as well. The Republican chair of the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee is seeking related documents and communications from the Whitmer administration going back to 2019. 

In this photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, second from right, visits Benton Harbor, Mich., Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, to listen to residents who have been urged to use bottled water because of elevated levels of lead in their tap water.
(Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Pinkney says the community is coming together in to fill a leadership void during in the crisis and that his church is “going door-to-door making sure that everybody here has clean drinking water.”

“Because we cannot take another chance of relying on them to do anything,” the reverend said. “We have to do it ourselves.”

Pinkey also wants President Biden’s EPA to “start going door-to-door” to help alleviate the crisis.

“Once we do that, then we can do more,” Pinkney said.

Pinkney said his community needs to be “made whole” again by removing the lead from the water, adding that the Democratic governor could get it done in “six to 12 months” instead of her 18-month timeline since there are only 6,000 lead pipes in the city.

“Newark, New Jersey had 20,000 and got it done in less than two years,” Pinkney said. “So there’s not a reason in the world we can’t get this done in six to 12 months.”

The reverend said that the city is facing “more than a crisis” and that the situation is “devastating” to the entire community, noting the community doesn’t “even know how many people have died from this lead.”

“That’s the thing. We don’t know — we don’t even have a clue,” Pinkney said. “We don’t know how bad this thing’s been.”

He also criticized Whitmer’s messaging on the crisis, blasting her for “abundance of caution” messaging and calling on her to tell the people of Benton Harbor that their water is “unsafe” for use.

“That doesn’t make any sense and it don’t mean nothing to no one,” the reverend said.

Neither the governor’s nor mayor’s offices responded to Fox News’ request for comment.

Houston Keene is a reporter for Fox News Digital. You can find him on Twitter at @HoustonKeene.

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