Sparks Fly at Congressional Hearing on Flint Water Crisis

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sat side-by-side at a Congressional hearing on the lead exposure suffered by citizens of Flint.

3 minute read

March 18, 2016, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing quickly turned into a blistering partisan session on Thursday, March 17, with House Democrats aiming their fire at the Republican governor, while Republicans, and the Governor Rick Snyder himself, blamed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator McCarthy for not correcting the lead pollution problem once they found out something was wrong.

For example, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) "tore into Michigan’s Republican governor Thursday and accused him of repeatedly ignoring Flint’s cries for help with its contaminated water," writes Timothy Cama for The Hill. He "accused him of being willfully ignorant of the problem in his own administration."

He called on Snyder to resign and called into question the governor’s claim that he did not know about the lead levels in the water until October 2015.

"While the two parties mostly kept their fire aimed at their favored political targets, (ranking member) Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) did say that federal officials shared in the blame, arguing they should have stepped in early on the crisis," write Devin Henry and Timothy Cama, energy and environment reporters for The Hill.

In a March 14 Washington Post op-ed, McCarthy clarifies the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in dealing with state water issues.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Congress gives states primary responsibility for enforcing drinking water rules for the nation’s approximately 152,000 water systems, but the Environmental Protection Agency has oversight authority...But looking back on Flint, it is clear that, from day one, Michigan did not act as a partner. The state’s interactions with us were dismissive, misleading and unresponsive. 

While that account is corroborated in a January post on the role of the EPA, and the "whistle-blower" role of Miguel A. Del Toral, regulations manager in the EPA's ground water and drinking water branch, it also indicated that "Del Toral's report never got past the desk of Susan Hedman, the administrator of the regional EPA office who has since resigned her position."

Hedman defended her actions on Tuesday before the committee. "I repeatedly asked for a final memo about lead in a form that EPA could publicly release," she said in a March 15 article in The Hill.

However, it was McCarthy who the committee's chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), slammed on Thursday.

“You had the opportunity, you had the presence, you had the authority, you had the backing of the federal government, and you did not act when you had the chance,” he said. “And if you’re going to do the courageous thing then you, too, should resign.”

The hearing was also a topic on the PBS Newshour on Thursday. Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, whose testing revealed the hazardous lead levels in the drinking water last summer, pulled no punches in his assessment of the role of the EPA in letting the crisis go on too long.

EPA said nothing to back us up. So they are a major part of what went wrong in Flint, and for them to sit there and act like they have done nothing wrong is just, ...outrageous and Orwellian.

The Flint water crisis was initiated when the former mayor and governor's emergency manager changed water sources from the Detroit system to the Flint River in April 2014 without adding the necessary anti-corrosive agents to prevent leaching from the city's lead pipes.

Thursday, March 17, 2016 in The Hill

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