WASHINGTON (AP) — A lead-contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan represents “a failure of government at all levels,” but the main culprit is a state agency he oversees, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality repeatedly assured him and other officials that water from the Flint River was safe, when in reality it had dangerous levels of lead, the governor says.
In prepared testimony for a House hearing Thursday, Snyder says he did not learn until Oct. 1, 2015 that Flint’s water was contaminated — nearly 18 months after the city began drawing its water from the Flint River in April 2014.
Snyder said he took immediate action, reconnecting the city with Detroit’s water supply and distributing water filters and testing residents — especially children — for elevated lead levels.
A state investigation has “uncovered systemic failures at the Michigan DEQ,” Snyder says. “The fact is, bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical compliance over common sense — and the result was that lead was leaching into residents’ water.”
The state has approved $67 million in emergency spending, with a request for $165 million more, Snyder said in prepared testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy also faulted state officials for the crisis, which occurred when Flint switched from the Detroit system and began drawing from the Flint River to save money. The impoverished city was under state management at the time.
“The crisis we’re seeing was the result of a state-appointed emergency manager deciding that the city would stop purchasing treated drinking water and instead switch to an untreated source to save money,” McCarthy says in prepared testimony for the House hearing.
“The state of Michigan approved that decision, and did so without requiring corrosion control treatment,” McCarthy said. “Without corrosion control, lead from pipes, fittings and fixtures can leach into the drinking water. These decisions resulted in Flint residents being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead.”
Thursday’s hearing is the second of two Flint-related sessions the oversight panel is conducting this week. The Associated Press obtained copies of testimony by Snyder and McCarthy in advance.
Snyder, a Republican, asked to testify to Congress last month, bowing to demands by Democrats that he explain his role in a cost-cutting move that resulted in a public health emergency that has rocked Flint and caused ripples in the presidential campaign, where Democrats have called for Snyder to step down.
Snyder says in his testimony that the EPA also made mistakes. Top officials silenced an EPA water expert who tried to raise alarms about Flint’s water, he said.
Snyder called for Congress to approve a bipartisan bill that would spend $220 million to fix and replace lead-contaminated pipes in Flint and other cities. Senators from both parties have reached a tentative agreement, but the bill remains on hold amid objections by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Snyder says the state government is taking responsibility for the manmade disaster, adding that officials are publicly releasing relevant documents from the state agencies involved.
Snyder said he is glad to be appearing Thursday alongside McCarthy, “because all of us must acknowledge our responsibility and be held accountable.” Snyder faulted “inefficient, ineffective and unaccountable bureaucrats at the EPA” who “allowed this disaster to continue unnecessarily.”
Thursday’s hearing follows a contentious session Tuesday in which former city and federal officials pointed fingers at one another for failing to protect the 100,000 citizens of Flint. Committee Republicans targeted for blame a regional EPA executive who resigned last month as the crisis worsened.
Amid withering criticism, Susan Hedman sought to defend the EPA’s actions, saying that while the crisis was not EPA’s fault, “I do believe we could have done more.” Hedman was director of the EPA’s Chicago-based Midwest office when the Flint crisis occurred.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the oversight panel, said officials “need to understand how the system failed the residents of Flint so badly. But more importantly, we need to understand what is being done to fix the problem and help the people of Flint recover from this tragedy.”