LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday released more than 270 pages of emails he sent or received about Flint between Jan. 2014 and Dec. 2015.
Snyder said in his State of the State Address Tuesday that he would release the emails to disclose more information about what he knew about the city's water crisis and when. The governor and his office are exempt from public-records requests under Michigan law, but Snyder says he took the unprecedented step so people "know the truth."
"I know apologies won't make up for the mistakes that were made, nothing will, but I take full responsibility to fix the problem so that it will never happen again," Snyder said Tuesday night.
The 274-page document was posted on the Michigan government website after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The very first email included in the release is from January 2015 and was entirely redacted. According to the governor's legal counsel it was redacted because it contains privileged attorney-client communications about an ongoing lawsuit, but one that was not related to the Flint water crisis.
>> How'd we get here. Here's an explanation of what lead up to the crisis.
There appears to be no evidence of specific references to lead in the water in the emails provided until Sept. 25, 2015, in a message from Dennis Muchmore, the governor's outgoing chief of staff. In it, Muchmore said the state's department of environmental quality and the health department felt "some in Flint are taking the very sensitive issue of children's exposure to lead and trying to turn it into political football." The email addressed to Snyder and others goes on to say the departments were being accused of "underestimating the impacts on the populations and particularly trying to shift responsibility to the state."
The issue of Flint water and its quality continues to be a challenging topic. The switch over to use Flint river water has spurred most of the controversy and contention.
Kildee is asking for a call with you. That's tricky because he's sure to use it publicly, but if you don't talk with him it will just fan the narrative that the state is ducking responsibility.
The governor's outgoing chief of state says later in the email he "can't figure out why the state is responsible, except Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we're not able to avoid the subject," referring to then-State Treasurer Andy Dillon and the decision by the state to make the water switch from Detroit to Flint.
These emails coming just days after research findings from a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center in Flint were first made public, which showed an increase in lead activity following the change in water supply. A day after local doctors reported high levels of lead in Flint children, Snyder's chief of staff told him the "real responsibility" for the city's water issues rested with local government officials.
Muchmore wrote to Snyder and other top aides that critics were focusing on the lead issue and "looking for someone to blame," but two state agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "can't find evidence of a major change" in lead contamination.
While we continue to review this data, we have stated publicly that Hurley conducted their analysis in a much different way than we do at the department. Hurley used two partial years of data, MDHHS looked at five comprehensive years and saw no increase outside t he normal seasonal increases. The Hurley review was also a much smaller sample than MDHHS data as ours includes all hospital systems in Flint as well as outside laboratories.
September emails indicate the MDEQ and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services remained critical of the elevated lead level concerns raised by the pediatrician.
The first indication of any admission of wrongdoing appears in an Oct. 18 2015 email from Muchmore to Snyder, in which Muchmore says a mistake was made.
Our staff believed they were constrained by two consecutive six month tests. We followed and defended that protocol. I believe now we made a mistake. Because of what I have learned, I will be announcing a change in leadership in our drinking water program.
Documents attached to that email detail that warnings had been ignored by DEQ staffers for months who had "essentially downplayed or ignored warning signs from EPA's water expert."
Shortly after the revelations became apparent to the governor in October, he assembled a task force to review what happened and the decisions that were made at the local and state level that led to the issues. The task force later concluded the bulk of the blame for the crisis rested with the DEQ.
Flint's water became contaminated with too much lead when an emergency city manager appointed by Snyder switched its water source to the Flint River in 2014 to cut costs.
Lead contamination can lead to behavior problems and learning disabilities in children and kidney ailments in adults.
It remains unclear whether there are additional emails the governor's office did not disclose or whether Snyder will choose to release any further information or emails in the future. A spokesperson for the governor, who said earlier in the day they chose to only release emails to and from the governor based on relevance, did not respond to a further inquiry from FOX 17 Wednesday evening.
Flint's 100,000 residents are unable to drink unfiltered tap water. The National Guard, state employees, local authorities and volunteers are distributing lead tests, filters and bottled water after corrosive water from the Flint River caused lead to leach from old pipes into homes.
The email release came on the same afternoon the Michigan House approved Gov. Snyder's request for $28 million more to deal with Flint's drinking water crisis.
The House voted unanimously Wednesday, and the measure moves to the Senate for expected action next week.
The funding, which follows the Legislature's $9 million allocation toward the crisis in the fall, would pay for more bottled water, filters, health treatment, water testing and help the city offset unpaid water bills. The money also would cover the replacement of plumbing fixtures in schools, day cares and medical facilities.
Snyder said in Tuesday's annual State of the State speech that the $28 million is not his last budget request for Flint. He is expected to include additional funding in his February budget proposal.
The Associated Press and FOX 17s Josh Sidorowicz contributed to this report.