More finger pointing in third Congressional hearing over Flint

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is sworn in to testify before a House Oversight and government Reform hearing on "Examining Federal Administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint, Michigan, Part III" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 17, 2016. © Kevin Lamarque
Both the governor of Michigan and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency were called on to resign by lawmakers during a contentious congressional oversight hearing Thursday on lead contamination in the city of Flint’s water supply.

“You failed,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, according to The Detroit News.

Chaffetz, the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was only getting started.

“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. If you were going to do the courageous thing, then you, too, should step down.”

Chaffetz then pressed McCarthy on whether the EPA did anything wrong, only to balk at her response.

“I don’t know if we did everything right. That’s the challenge that I’m facing,” McCarthy said. “I would have hoped we would have been more aggressive.”

McCarthy said her agency “couldn’t get a straight answer” from state environmental officials.

“The crisis we’re seeing was the result of a state-appointed emergency manager deciding that the city would stop purchasing treated drinking water and instead switch to an untreated source to save money,” McCarthy told the oversight committee. “The state of Michigan approved that decision.”

The finger-pointing continued but was partially in the opposite direction when it was Governor Rick Snyder’s turn.

Gov. Snyder blamed career bureaucrats in Washington as well as his own state for the Flint water contamination crisis. The Republican governor repeatedly apologized for his role in the crisis, which began when state officials switched Flint’s water supply to the Flint River in 2014 to save money in the majority African-American city of 100,000 people.

“Not a day or night goes by that this tragedy doesn’t weight on my mind – the questions I should have asked, the answers I should have demanded,” Snyder told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, according to The Associated Press.

Michigan officials did not require that the river water be treated for corrosion, and lead from aging pipes and fixtures leached into Flint homes and businesses for nearly two years. About 8,000 children under the age of six were potentially exposed, and elevated lead levels have been found in some children’s blood. Lead contamination has been linked to learning disabilities and other problems.

Snyder told lawmakers that officials at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality repeatedly assured him the water being piped in from the Flint River was safe.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) said the governor should have pushed back against state experts. It was revealed the oversight committee had obtained documents “showing that people all around the government were sounding the alarms, but he either ignored them or didn’t hear them,” Cummings said, according to AP.

He cited an October 2014 email from Snyder’s top legal adviser warning that Flint should “get back on the Detroit (water) system as soon as possible” before this thing gets too far out of control.”

That warning came a year before Snyder said he became aware of the contamination on October 1, 2015, at which time he ordered the city of Flint be reconnected to Detroit’s water supply.

Cummings noted that Snyder often likened running the state of Michigan to running a business, telling the governor that if he had manufactured a toy sold to children that contained lead, he would likely face criminal charges.

“The board of directors would throw him out, and the shareholders would revolt,” said Cummings.