By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
Congressional members expressed outrage Tuesday over the grave mishandling of the Flint water crisis, saying government at all levels failed residents.
“This was a crime of epic proportions,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said during the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing.
Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to testify Thursday.
Tuesday’s hearing included testimony from Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, lead expert Marc Edwards and the Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 former director Susan Hedman.
Edwards, whose Virginia Tech study revealed dangerous levels of lead in the spring of 2015, said Snyder’s administration and the EPA ignored strong evidence that Flint’s drinking water was contaminated.
“The EPA sat there silent, as the state attacked us for saying the Flint water was not safe to drink,” Edwards said.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, said all leaders responsible for ignoring the contaminated water must be held accountable.
“The flint water crisis is a national scandal,” Maloney said. “It cries out for accountability for those responsible.”
Still, many committee members resorted to partisan bickering. Republicans criticized the EPA, while Democrats blasted Snyder’s administration.
“I think this hearing is going to be known as the great finger-pointing hearing,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said. “It seems that people were asleep at the tap. … The experts seem to have been the citizens in Flint.”
Earley, who was the emergency manager when the state switched to the Flint River in April 2014, tried to deflect blame, saying his predecessor made the decision to change the water source.
“I have been unjustly vilified,” Earley insisted.
Democrats shot back, saying it was his responsibility to ensure the proper safeguards were in place and that complaints about the water quality were investigated.
Rep. Elijah Cummings said he “almost vomited” when Earley dismissed responsibility.
“It is sickening – all of it,” Cummings said. “You don’t have to be a water treatment expert. A 5-year-old could figure out” there were problems with the water.
When pressed whether he was sorry for not acting sooner, Earley finally suggested he was.
“Yes, I am sorry that Flint residents had to go through this crisis,” Earley said. “I am very remorseful.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence said the state’s emergency manager law is flawed because the safety of residents is a secondary concern.
“You report only to the bottom line and to the governor,” Lawrence said.
The EPA was criticized for failing to take action and for trying to silence one of the agency’s drinking water expert for voicing concerns about the growing crisis.
“There is a special place in hell for actions like this,” Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., said of the EPA’s failure to oversee the crisis.
Hedman, who resigned from the EPA for her role in the crisis, refused to accept blame, saying the state was responsible.
“The EPA had nothing to do with that,” Hedman said of the crisis.
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz , R-Utah, was appalled.
“You still don’t get it,” Chaffetz told Hedman. “You screwed up. You messed up people’s lives.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-NJ, expressed disappointment over the partisan finger-pointing.
“God knows we haven’t gotten to the bottom of this,” Coleman said.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.