House panel calls hearing on Flint water crisis

House panel calls hearing on Flint water crisis
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The House Oversight Committee is set to grill federal and state figures involved in the water crisis in Flint, Mich., over their responsibility for the city’s lead contamination.

The hearing on Tuesday will be Congress’s first foray into the crisis, in which a switch in the city’s water supply and a lack of proper water treatment, caused lead from pipes to leach into the water at high concentrations.

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will testify, but Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who has shouldered most of the blame for the problems, will not attend.

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The committee, led by Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), announced the hearing Friday.

Its investigation is focusing most on the EPA’s role in the lead problem, going back to April 2014, when Flint first switched its water source from the Detroit municipal supply to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure.

Chaffetz wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Friday seeking numerous documents related to the agency’s handling of the situation.

He wrote that the resignation of Susan Hedman as the top EPA official for the Great Lakes region “raises serious questions about EPA’s response to the Flint crisis.”

Hedman knew by at least April 2015 about elevated lead levels thanks to testing done by Miguel Del Toral, a water regulation manager in her office, but she did not tell the public about the problem. She resigned last week.

Democrats have blasted the committee in recent days for not calling Snyder to testify.

“Gov. Snyder and his administration’s policies led to this man-made crisis and he must testify so that the whole truth can be found,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Flint, said in a Thursday statement.

“Gov. Rick Snyder was at the top of my list of witnesses due to the central role that he has played in this man-made crisis,” said Rep. Barbara Lawrence (D-Mich.), a member of the Oversight Committee.

“I am deeply disappointed at the majority’s lack of commitment to a thorough and meaningful hearing,” she said.

A spokesman for the committee defended the decision not to call Snyder, saying Michigan is conducting its own investigation of what happened within the state.

“Our responsibility as a committee is at the federal level,” he said. “We are looking at this from an operational standpoint and our witnesses reflect that.”

Del Toral will testify Tuesday about his reports to superiors and his work on Flint’s water. Joel Beauvais, acting assistant administrator for water at the EPA, will also testify.

Keith Creagh, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, will represent the state, along with Darnell Earley, the Snyder-appointed emergency manager of Flint during the time the city switched its water source.

Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher behind much of the known data about Flint’s water, will speak as well.

- Updated at 7:04 p.m.