Snyder to testify before Congress on Flint crisis
WASHINGTON -- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will get the chance to testify before a congressional committee on the Flint water crisis, speaking at an as-yet-unscheduled hearing before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on what happened and the improvements he wants to recommend at the local, state and federal levels.
The governor's office said Friday that Snyder called the committee's chairman, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, on Thursday and offered to testify before the panel to address mistakes made by water quality experts that led to the current crisis of high levels of lead found in Flint residents' tap water.
Shortly after the Free Press broke news of the request, Chaffetz put out a statement saying he would hold a hearing — the committee's second into the Flint water crisis — and the governor would be called to testify, as would EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, former EPA Region 5 head Susan Hedman, former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, among others.
“We are committed to investigating the failures in Flint," Chaffetz said. "We appreciate Gov. Snyder’s willingness to appear ... and look forward to hearing from EPA Administrator McCarthy as well. Their perspectives on this issue are important as we seek to ensure a crisis of this magnitude never occurs in another American city."
Chaffetz also said he would invite EPA manager Miguel Del Toral, who nearly a year ago recognized the potential danger posed by high lead levels reported by a Flint resident to the agency's Region 5 headquarters in Chicago, and Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who took a team to Flint to sample residents' taps and found numerous homes with high lead levels.
The committee was criticized by Democrats in Congress for not inviting Snyder to testify at a hearing on the subject held last Wednesday and, this week, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee — a partisan panel — tendered an invitation to Snyder, which he turned down.
Flint's water problems stretch back to April 2014, when the city switched from Detroit water's system, using Lake Huron water, to the Flint River under what was a temporary cost-cutting move. The state Department of Environmental Quality has borne the brunt of the blame for not requiring corrosion control treatments when it did so, as the more corrosive river water apparently allowed lead to leach from old service lines throughout the city.
DEQ officials argued for months with the EPA that it was only required to sample Flint water for two 6-month periods before making a determination on corrosion control, a stance the agency later acknowledged was a mistake. Meanwhile, the EPA, though it insisted that Flint needed corrosion control as soon as it learned it wasn't using any, has been criticized by some for not acting more aggressively, instead asking for a legal opinion to back up its position rather than demanding — as it can under the Safe Drinking Water Act — immediate action.
“The people of Flint have suffered because they were failed by all levels of government, and so it is understandable that there are questions at all levels of government,” Snyder said in a statement Friday. “In Michigan we are learning a great deal from this crisis and I am hopeful the federal government also will use this as an opportunity to examine health and safety protections in place, assess infrastructure needs, and avoid this type of crisis in the future.”
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the Oversight Committee's ranking Democrat, quibbled with Snyder's contention that he asked to testify on Friday, saying "the reality is that he is finally bowing to mounting public pressure to answer questions before Congress about the central and critical role his administration played in this man-made disaster."
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, who is on the committee, said she expects "Gov. Snyder will provide a complete account of how the poisoning of an entire city was allowed to occur."
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