In a civil suit deposition shown on June 29 to federal court jurors in Ann Arbor, Mich., former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) testified that he is surprised a Flint, Mich., water consultant did not discuss issues related to lead in the city water system as part of its February 2015 report to officials, since emails show that Veolia Water North America Operating Services managers had identified it previously and discussed how to treat the problem, which eventually grew into a major supply crisis.
In testimony at the trial of the suit by some Flint families against Veolia and engineer Lockwood Andrews Newnam, Snyder said it is likely his administration would have moved more quickly to address the issue.
When asked by an attorney representing the families of children treated for issues related to Flint lead poisoning if he "would have taken ... action" in 2014 or early 2015 "If anyone from Veolia had presented such evidence to describe lead as a problem," Snyder replied that was "an accurate representation." But in response to the attorney's contention "that never happened," Snyder responded: "Not to my knowledge."
Two criminal charges against Snyder and charges against eight other state officials were found invalid by the Michigan Supreme Court June 28. The former governor's deposition was actually recorded sometime in 2020 and was only made available to the public the morning after that ruling. Snyder and other state officials are fighting a subpoena to give live testimony in the civil trial as Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud has vowed to refile the quashed criminal charges. Judge Judith Levy, presiding over the civil trial, did not mention the separate criminal matter as something the jury should consider in viewing and listening to Snyder's deposition. Snyder appeared in court June 30 to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Speaking of the February 2015 report during his deposition, Snyder said, "It would have been, from my recollection, one of the earliest points where lead was put on the table as an issue." He added, "I would expect it to be addressed in a report."
Getting such a report from Veolia would have been considered credible, Snyder testified, because the firm "is one of the largest or the largest water companies in the world," he said.
Plaintiffs' Attorney Corey Stern also showed internal emails between Veolia engineers and executives discussing lead and how to mitigate it, which were dated Feb. 15, 2015, not long before the Feb. 18 interim water quality report that said the water was safe to drink and did not mention lead at all.
"The city ... needs to be aware of this problem with lead," a Veolia employee said in an email to other company officials.
Snyder testified that in 2015 he "was consistently being told by the Department of Environmental Quality that the water was meeting safe water standards," and that the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services said that elevated blood lead levels in Flint children were not due to the change in the city's water supply from the Detroit municipal water system to the Flint River. The city switched back in October 2015.
This article was updated June 30 to reflect new information after former Gov. Rick Snyder invoked his Fifth Amendment right.