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Michigan governor: Flint crisis is failure in government
05:53 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder tells CNN he won't resign

He says it's unclear how many kids were impacted by lead-poisoned water

"There was a failure of government," Snyder says, vowing to fix the problem

CNN  — 

Embattled Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says he’s committed to dealing with the crisis that sent lead-poisoned water into homes in one of his state’s poorest cities.

In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Snyder spoke about the situation in Flint, his concerns about what happens next and his response to class-action lawsuits filed against the city and state.

Here are seven key takeaways:

1. The governor isn’t resigning

Calls for Snyder to resign or be recalled are growing, from protests on the streets of Flint to mounting criticism on social media over the way the state has handled the crisis. But the governor, a Republican who was elected in 2010, says the magnitude of the problem is even more of a reason for him to remain at the helm and solve it.

“The right action is, if you have a problem that happened from people that you were responsible for, you go solve it. You don’t walk away from it. You take it head-on,” he says. “And that’s what I’ve been doing.”

2. For kids, the impact could be more widespread than we realize

It’s too soon to know exactly how many children were harmed by lead-poisoned water in Flint, Snyder says, and officials are bracing for the possibility of a much higher tally than what blood tests have revealed so far (more than 100 children over the past couple years, the governor says). “There could be many more,” he says, “and we’re assuming that.”

One difficulty officials are facing, Snyder said, is that lead might no longer show up in a blood test after a month has passed.

Timeline of the Flint water crisis

“So really, we need to establish the right medical protocols, the public health pieces, the educational process things, to watch these kids for years that didn’t have higher blood levels in terms of a blood test. Because they could be affected.”

3. It’s too soon to say when lead pipes will be replaced

Just because lead inside pipes has poisoned people doesn’t mean crews can pull them out of the ground right away.

“That is not a short-term project in terms of ripping up all the infrastructure, replacing all that. That can take an extended period of time. It’s months or years to do all of that,” Snyder says.

Asked whether the lead pipes in Flint and across Michigan would be replaced in five years, Snyder said “it’s too soon to tell, because I can’t tell you how many pipes and where they are.”

It’s a national issue, Snyder says, not just a problem Flint is facing, since there are lead pipes in many major metropolitan areas.

“We should be having this discussion across the country,” he says.

4. Snyder says he’s already released emails showing what he knew – and when

Asked whether he plans to release emails and text messages going back to January 2011, as attorneys representing residents in Flint in a class-action lawsuit have requested, Snyder says he’s complying with “all the lawsuits and investigations fully,” but added that he’s already released emails from 2014 and 2015. The governor wouldn’t definitely say if he will release any more emails.

“We’ll follow the appropriate legal process for subpoenas and other legal matters,” he says. “With respect to my emails, I did that. … Everybody wanted to know, when did I find something out? So I released the relevant emails, my emails, that address that issue for the relevant time period.”

5 striking emails on the Flint water crisis

5. Governor says he found out in October

The governor says he learned about the situation in October and took “dramatic action.”

“I took action immediately then, offering filters, working with people on getting water, on doing water testing,” he says.

But it wasn’t until January that he declared a state of emergency.

Asked to explain the timing, Snyder says he realized the state needed to do more.

“All the other efforts weren’t as much as I would have liked, and so the point is, now that was the point of calling the National Guard out, about making attempts to visit every home in Flint.”

6. Snyder admits ‘there was a failure of government’

“There was a failure of government in terms of people not using common sense enough to prevent this from happening and identifying it soon enough … and the people that did this work for me, so I am responsible,” Snyder says. “My focus now, though is how do we address it? How do we follow up? How do we help these parents and these kids that could go on for years?”

But the governor bristled at the implication that he’d emphasized things such as business tax cuts at the expense of funding infrastructure. A corporate income tax plan Snyder pushed through the state’s legislature cut business taxes by $1.7 billion a year.

“It’s not about just moving money,” he says. “This is a case of a handful of government officials making extremely poor decisions that had massive consequences for people. This raises a cultural question. Most government employees are great people. They work really hard. But there are places where people were following kind of the letter of the federal lead and copper rule far too literally and not in the appropriate fashion that led to this.”

How tap water became toxic in Flint

7. He says it isn’t fair to say Flint was forgotten

Some have alleged that Flint has been long neglected because of the city’s demographics. More than 40% of residents live below the poverty line. Many of them are African-American.

But Snyder says it isn’t fair to say that Flint was forgotten or deliberately neglected.

“A lot of very good things have taken place in Flint,” Snyder says. “This was just a huge failure. It had horrible consequences for the citizens. And so that’s what we’re trying to address now.”

Did race and poverty factor into water crisis?

CNN’s Yon Pomrenze contributed to this report.