Flint crisis reaches Capitol Hill, and it’s a blame game

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government officials fought on Wednesday over who was to blame for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, at a combative congressional hearing that also pitted Democrats against Republicans.

Joel Beauvais, acting water chief for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Michigan officials ignored federal advice to treat Flint water for corrosion-causing elements last year and delayed for months before telling the public about the health risks of lead-contaminated water.

“What happened in Flint was avoidable and never should have happened,” Beauvais said.

EPA’s Midwest regional office urged Michigan’s environmental agency to address the lack of corrosion control in Flint’s water, “but was met with resistance,” Beauvais told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “The delays in implementing the actions needed to treat the drinking water and in informing the public of ongoing health risks raise very serious concerns.”

Countering the Obama administration official, Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, acknowledged that the state should have required Flint to treat its water, but said the EPA “did not display the sense of urgency that the situation demanded,” allowing the problem to fester for months.

Creagh apologized for the state’s role in the water crisis, but said, “in retrospect, government at all levels should have done more.”

The hearing was the first on Capitol Hill since the lead contamination crisis in Flint made national news last year, and frustrated Democrats complained that the Republican-led committee didn’t ask the state’s GOP governor to explain what happened.

Flint is under a public health emergency after its drinking water became tainted when the city switched from the Detroit system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The city was under state management at the time.

Water was not properly treated to keep lead from pipes from leaching into the supply. Some children’s blood has tested positive for lead, a potent neurotoxin linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ and behavioral problems.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized repeatedly for the state’s role in the crisis. Snyder and state legislators have enacted $37 million in emergency Flint funding for the current fiscal year. Snyder is expected to propose an additional $30 million in state funding to help Flint residents pay their water bills.

The crisis has taken on partisan overtones, as Democrats blame the Republican governor and some Republicans target the EPA for failing to intervene sooner.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the oversight panel, said EPA should have acted on its own to warn the public about water problems in Flint.

“Why didn’t EPA tell the public they’re poisoning their kids if they drink the water?” he asked Beauvais, adding that EPA knew about potential health risks for nearly a year before making the results public.

“What good are EPA if they don’t tell kids” about lead in the water, Chaffetz shouted.

Democrats were equally adamant that the state was to blame.

“Can anybody tell me why Gov. Snyder is not here today?” asked Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa. “Because he’s hiding, that’s why,” Cartwight added, answering his own question.

Chaffetz did not call Snyder to testify.

Creagh, the Michigan official, focused on a June 2015 memo by an employee in EPA’s Midwest regional office that outlined problems with Flint’s water. The memo was not formally delivered to state environmental officials until November — after the state had begun taking actions to address the lead problem, Creagh said.

Detroit schools emergency manager Darnell Earley, who was state-appointed emergency manager for Flint when its water source was switched, had been asked to testify at Wednesday’s hearing but declined. The oversight committee issued a subpoena to Earley on Tuesday, but his lawyer said it was impossible for him to appear at the hearing and suggested a different date.

In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Democrats thought they had an agreement on a $600 million federal aid package for Flint that would be added to a bipartisan energy bill, but found out Tuesday night that Republicans were blocking it over a procedural issue.

Stabenow said she would thwart further work on the energy bill until Republicans agree to move forward on the package for Flint.

“At this point in time I think we need to make it very clear that we are serious, and if they want a bill we want to help the people of Flint,” Stabenow said.

Stabenow said the amendment would have paid to fix pipes in Flint, among other help for the city. Democrats had proposed a $600 million package of federal aid, but Stabenow said they had agreed to less than half of their initial request.

___

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this story.

___

This version corrects the amount Snyder and state legislators have enacted in emergency funding to $37 million for the current fiscal year.

__

Follow Matthew Daly: http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 23, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 22, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Campaign buttons urging Alaskans to repeal ranked choice voting in Alaska sit on a picnic table at the home of Phil Izon, a backer of the initiative, in Wasilla, Alaska, on Tuesday, May 14. Arguments are scheduled May 28 in a lawsuit challenging the state Division of Election’s decision to certify the initiative for placement on the ballot this year. (Mark Thiessen / AP)
Ranked-choice voting has challenged the status quo. Its popularity will be tested in November

Arguments scheduled Tuesday in Alaska lawsuit involving ballot initiative repealing RCV.

A sperm whale is seen in an undated photo published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA photo)
Alaska fisherman pleads guilty to federal charges after ordering crew to shoot whale

A Southeast Alaska troll fisherman has agreed to plead guilty to a… Continue reading

Juneau high school seniors Edward Hu of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (left), Elizabeth Djajalie of Thunder Mountain High School (center) and Kenyon Jordan of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. (Photos of Hu and Jordan by Juneau Empire staff, photo of Djajalie by Victor Djajalie)
Senior Spotlight 2024: Three top students take very different paths to graduation stage

Ceremonies for Juneau’s three high schools take place Sunday.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Most Read