The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved of Michigan’s forgive the city of Flint’s debt on projects to ensure clean drinking water.
“Forgiving Flint’s past debt will better protect public health and reduce the costs associated with maintaining the city’s water system over time,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday.
The announcement came hours after the Department of Health and Human Services gave Michigan State University the first installment of a $14.4 million grant to create a registry for Flint residents exposed to lead-tainted water since 2014.
The Department of Labor gave Flint a $4.1 million grant in June to pay for upgrades to the city’s water systems.
Michigan will forgive Flint’s $20.7 million debt to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which EPA says is in line with appropriations legislation that President Donald Trump signed in May. The EPA gave Flint $100 million in March to replace its aged water infrastructure.
Flint became a political flashpoint in 2015 after reports surfaced claiming that the city’s drinking water was contaminated with lead. The EPA’s top official for the region resigned after news came out that her office knew about the lead problem for months without taking action.
Investigators laid most of the blame for Flint’s water problems at the feet of Michigan regulators, but the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in February 2016 pointed out that the EPA is required to force states to comply with drinking water laws, which the Obama administration never did.
The state charged Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon with involuntary manslaughter charges in June. Last year, the state charged six other public officials involved in the Flint water crisis.
Flint switched its water supply in 2014 from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money amid a fiscal crisis, but state officials prescribed the wrong chemical treatment for the new water and it corroded the city’s old lead pipes.
“Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure is one of the president’s top priorities, and EPA is especially focused on those communities, like Flint, that need it the most,” Pruitt said. “Forgiving the city’s debt will ensure that Flint will not need to resume payments on the loan, allowing progress toward updating Flint’s water system to continue.”
The most recent tests show that Flint’s water is in compliance with EPA standards, with lead levels well below 15 parts per billion, according to the agency.
Update: This article has been corrected from a previous version.
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