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Michigan Governor Tells Congress He

Was Misled on Flint Water

MARCH 17, 2016

WASHINGTON Time and again, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan acknowledged in

a tense congressional hearing Thursday that he had been aware of complaints
about the drinking water in Flint, including from news reports his aides had
emailed him. Yet he had accepted assurances, he said, that the problems were not
Democrats listening to his testimony were dubious. Governor Snyder,
plausible deniability only works when its plausible, said Representative Matt
Cartwright, Democrat of Pennsylvania. You were not in a medically induced coma
for a year.
The rebuke was one of the more caustic in an extraordinary turn on Capitol
Hill: A sitting Republican governor appearing before a Republican-led
congressional panel, answering wave after wave of questions about his
administrations role in the Flint water crisis the most glaring failure of
government since Hurricane Katrina, as Representative Brendan Boyle, another
Pennsylvania Democrat, described it.
Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,
also came under fire, pressured by Republicans to accept responsibility for the lead
contamination of Flints water supply and sometimes shouted down as she
deflected blame onto the State of Michigan.
Both officials were repeatedly called on to resign, with Mr. Boyle saying it was

Mr. Snyders moral responsibility. Over and over, Ms. McCarthy was
admonished, You just dont get it.
In addition to the hearing, there are a series of investigations criminal and
administrative into how the water supply for a city of nearly 100,000 people
became tainted with lead, a crisis that was not acknowledged for months. But in a
strange political reversal, Republicans who usually champion local rule cast most
of their blame on the E.P.A., saying the federal agency bore at least as much
responsibility as the state for keeping Flints residents safe.
Democrats who champion the role of the federal government blamed the
Snyder administration, and focused on the questions: What did Mr. Snyder know
and when did he know it?
I kick myself every day, Mr. Snyder said repeatedly as he testified before the
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, saying his mistake was
trusting employees career bureaucrats, he dryly called them, and so-called
experts who consistently misinformed him that the citys water was safe.
The water contamination in Flint and the failings of government officials at all
levels have cast a spotlight on water safety around the country and the problems
that come with aging lead pipes. The states response has also become an issue in
the presidential campaign, with Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton
calling on Mr. Snyder to step down.
Mr. Snyder said at the hearing, as he has before, that he did not learn that
Flints water had dangerous levels of lead until Oct. 1, after a local pediatrician
went public with findings that the number of children with elevated levels of lead
in their blood had risen alarmingly since the city changed its water supply the
previous year. And he repeated that he did not learn about a spike in Legionnaires
disease in the Flint area until January, even though some county and state officials
knew of it much earlier.
Mr. Snyder also took shots at the E.P.A., which learned in April 2015 a year
after Flint switched to a new water source, the Flint River that the city was not
adding a chemical that would prevent its pipes from corroding and leaching lead.

He pointed to emails suggesting that E.P.A. employees in the regional office in

charge of Michigan were complicit with employees of the Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality in keeping concerns about lead and lack of corrosion
control quiet for months.
They were in regular dialogue, he said of federal and state environmental
officials. We needed urgency, we needed action, but they kept on talking, he said.
Republicans have long targeted the E.P.A. as a source of government
incompetence and overreach. Ms. McCarthy, conceded that her agency had not
responded quickly or forcefully enough when it learned that Flint had not taken the
necessary corrosion control steps. But she said the E.P.A. had been fooled and
foiled by the same state employees who misled Mr. Snyder.
Much to the vexation of Republicans on the panel, she repeatedly refused to
say the E.P.A. had failed, or that anyone in the agency should have been fired
including the regional administrator overseeing Michigan, Susan Hedman, who
later quit after questions were raised about the handling of a whistle-blower,
Miguel Del Toral, whose warnings about lead were not acted aggressively on and
who later complained that he was punished for his actions.
She also refused to say whether the outcome would have been different if the
federal law setting standards for safe drinking water had been clearer.
I wish we had gone farther, I wish we had yelled from the treetops, Ms.
McCarthy told the committee. But there is no way my agency created this
Few new facts emerged from the four-hour hearing, nor did any minds appear
to be changed about culpability. Perhaps most striking was that despite the
partisan tone, Republicans sprinkled at least some criticism on Mr. Snyder, while
Democrats chastised the E.P.A. for not responding more forcefully when it learned
Flint had not added corrosion controls after switching to the river water.
The state has a big part of this blame, Im not trying to excuse them
whatsoever, said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who is the
chairman of the committee, although he spent most of his allotted time trying to

force an unyielding Ms. McCarthy to acknowledge she had screwed up.

Flint residents who attended the hearing many of whom had traveled
overnight by bus to get there left shrugging their shoulders, unsure what to take
from it.
I didnt start off with a lot of high hopes, said Melissa Mays, a resident who is
a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the Snyder administration. Its a
little more fire for everybody back home, because for the longest time we felt like
we didnt have a voice, we didnt matter, nobody cared. And now were watching
people care about whats been happening.
After the hearing, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top
Democrat on the committee, said he remained determined to interview 15 current
and former members of the Snyder administration who had so far rejected his
invitation to do so. In particular, Mr. Cummings said he wished to speak with
Dennis Muchmore, Mr. Snyders former chief of staff, who raised regular alarms
about Flints water problems last year in emails released by the governors office.
It doesnt end here, said Mr. Cummings, who was among those calling for
Mr. Snyders resignation at the hearing.
Mr. Chaffetz deflected reporters questions about whether he would use his
subpoena power to bring Mr. Muchmore before the committee.
The day brought other headaches for Mr. Snyder: Standard & Poors lowered
the outlook on Michigans credit rating to stable from positive, citing the costs of
dealing with the Flint crisis, and also with a looming financial crisis affecting
Detroit public schools.
At the hearing, Democrats frequently made reference to Flint children who
have been exposed to lead in their drinking water, and in one of the final exchanges
of the hearing, Mr. Cummings asked Mr. Snyder what those children were
supposed to learn from the government failures.
Its one of the terrible parts of all of this, Mr. Snyder replied. Theres a
question of trust in government, and theres good reason for them to ask that
question. And thats going to take a huge amount of time to earn back, if it can be

earned back.
Mitch Smith and Julie Bosman contributed reporting from Chicago.
A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the
headline: Michigan Governor Tells Congress He Was Misled on Flint Water .

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1. House Panel Denounces E.P.A. Actions in Flint Crisis MARCH 15, 2016


Former E.P.A. Official Defends Handling of Flint Water Crisis MARCH 14, 2016


As Aid Floods Into Flint, a Fix Remains Far Off MARCH 6, 2016



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