WASHINGTON — Congressmen held nothing back Thursday in their scathing attacks on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for doing too little to solve the Flint, Mich. water crisis, which left many of the city’s 99,000 residents with lead-contaminated drinking water.
In its third hearing on the tainted water, the entire committee agreed that both parties were in the wrong, but split along party lines in assigning blame. Republicans railed on McCarthy for the EPA’s failure to uphold the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act, but Democrats argued that it was Snyder’s inaction that caused the crisis to spiral out of control.
“Gov. Snyder has been described as running the state of Michigan like a business,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if a corporate CEO did what Gov. Snyder’s administration has done, they would be tried on criminal charges.”
McCarthy claimed that the EPA didn’t have information to understand the extent of the lead in Flint’s water until it was too late.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., shot back that an “incredibly accurate” report filed by EPA regional regulations manager Miguel Del Toro in June 2015 gave the EPA all the information it needed to realize the need for fast action.
The crisis began in April 2014 when the city of Flint switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an effort to save money. The river water – which was nineteen times as corrosive as the Lake Huron water – began dissolving the city’s water pipes, exposing the people of Flint to toxic amounts of lead. The contaminated water has been linked to increases in learning disabilities, hair loss, Legionnaires’ Disease and other health problems among Flint residents.
Much of Thursday’s hearing was spent examining what the governor and EPA administrator knew about the crisis, and when they knew it.
Though the governor claimed he was unaware of the extent of the crisis until September 2015, Cummings pointed out that Snyder had more than enough warning. His former chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, warned the governor in March 2015 that if nothing was done in Flint, “we’ll have real trouble,” and in October 2014, General Motors stopped using Flint water in its engine plants because it was corroding its machines.
“There will now be an entire generation of children who suffer from brain damage, learning disabilities and many other horrible effects of lead poisoning that were inflicted on them by Gov. Snyder’s administration,” said Cummings.
Mica lambasted the EPA, saying the regional chief for Michigan, Susan Hedman, “is getting vacation time bonuses while the children are getting poisoned. I think a lot more failed in Flint than the water.”
Hedman stepped down from her post in February, but beyond that, nobody in the EPA has been fired for their involvement in the crisis. Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, suggested if anyone is to be held accountable for the administration’s failure, it should be McCarthy.
“If you want to do the courageous thing like you said Susan Hedman did, then you, too, should resign,” he said.