The Good Fight

In Flint—and everywhere—we’re standing up for public health and the environment. It’s what we do.
Pallets of bottled water ready for distribution in a warehouse in Flint
Credit: Osorio/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In Flint—and everywhere—we’re standing up for public health and the environment. It’s what we do.

At a moment when so many Americans seem to disagree on so much, you would think we would at least be able to agree on one thing: that all Americans deserve the right to safe, clean drinking water. The residents of Flint, Michigan, who after three years still do not have access to untainted water, are a clear example of the fragility of this right and of our need to defend it.

The people of Flint, and their community leaders, agree. My organization—which filed suit earlier this year in an attempt to get officials to comply with federal law by doing everything within their power to provide clean drinking water to residents without delay—certainly agrees. And so does a federal judge, who last week ordered officials to begin delivering bottled water and/or water filters door-to-door to homes in Flint, in response to a motion filed by NRDC in conjunction with the case.

Nevertheless, the state of Michigan filed a motion last week to block the judge’s order and delay implementation. After having effectively poisoned the residents of Flint by allowing lead to leach into their water supply, and after having tried (unsuccessfully) to minimize and cover up this act of gross negligence, state officials have now upped the ante on their staggering evasion of responsibility. These officials apparently don’t agree with residents, community leaders, environmental groups, federal judges, or a majority of Michiganders in thinking that Flint residents are owed the basic right to nontoxic water while the state sets about cleaning up the mess that it has made.

If the judge denies the motion, the state of Michigan will likely take its argument to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Thus will the process be drawn out even more, and thus will safe drinking water be kept out of the homes of tens of thousands of Flint families—many of them low-income families of color—for even longer.

Regardless of what happens next, NRDC will be there. We’ve stood with the residents of Flint since news of this crisis first broke, and we’ll be there with them until they get the justice—and the clean water—they deserve. Since our founding in 1970, even as we’ve fought diligently for clean air, unpolluted waterways, and healthy wildlife, we’ve never forgotten that people and the environment are inextricably linked. Whenever and wherever we fight, and whatever it is that we’re fighting for, we’re ultimately fighting for people: for their rights, their health, their communities, and their safety. Flint is the latest front in this battle. But the battle is multifaceted, international, and ongoing.

Amid the tumult of the election, many are understandably wondering what will become of the various systems that our federal, state, and local governments have designed to protect our environment and safeguard public health. The concern is real—and the concern is merited. It’s not at all inconceivable that forces within the government will attempt to seize this political moment by trying to weaken regulations, nullify treaties, and roll back much of the progress that we’ve managed to make over the years.

In fact, it’s almost a certainty that they will try. But there’s another certainty that awaits them when they do: that NRDC and other organizations like it—backed up by the energies and efforts of literally millions of people—will be standing in their way, galvanized and organized, fully prepared to fight back. You may already be sensing it in your social media feeds, at work, or in conversations with family members or friends and neighbors. The people are finding their collective voice again, and they’re getting ready. The gains we’ve made are concrete and hard-won; we’re not going to let anybody take them away.

NRDC has no intention of giving up the fight in Flint. In fact, we have every intention of winning it, and of making sure that the government follows the law and secures safe drinking water for the city’s 100,000 residents. Elections and administrations and political cycles come and go. They can make it harder or easier to get things done—but they don’t change one underlying fact: We stand for justice. We stand for the enforcement of the laws and regulations that protect our health, our communities, and our families. We will continue to wage this battle and defend the values that underlie our democracy. And we will prevail. 

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