By Timothy Cama - 03/15/16 11:13 AM EDT
The former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official at the center of the Flint, Mich., water crisis complained Tuesday that she has been treated unfairly.
Susan Hedman, who was the regional administrator for the Great Lakes region, defended her role in the crisis at a House Oversight Committee hearing with other important former figures.
“I resigned, in part, because of the false allegations about me that were published in early January — which EPA was unable to correct on the record before they began to damage the agency’s ability to perform critical work in Flint,” Hedman told the panel, quoting a New York Times editorial that said she “sat on the sidelines during the crisis ... and ... downplayed concerns raised by an E.P.A. scientist about lead in the water.”
She said that’s not true.
“I did not sit on the sidelines, and I did not downplay any concerns raised by EPA scientists or apologize for any memos they wrote — in fact, I repeatedly asked for a final memo about lead in a form that EPA could publicly release.”
Hedman, holding back tears by the end of her testimony, said she cares deeply about the people of Flint, a heavily African-American and poor city of about 100,000.
“What happened in Flint should not have happened anywhere in United States — and I was horrified that it happened in my region, the Great Lakes region,” she said. “I thought — and still think — that resigning was the honorable thing to do.”
Records show that people at the EPA knew in early 2015 that Flint’s water had dangerously high lead levels. But it did not take formal action, beyond pushing Michigan officials to do something, until January 2016.
Hedman was the target of much of Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason Chaffetz41 Secret Service employees disciplined after Chaffetz leak Overnight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Lawmakers: Social Security vulnerable to hackers MORE’s (R-Utah) criticism at the hearing.
“If the EPA or the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality would have taken action in the summer of 2015 ... perhaps none of this would have happened,” he said, adding that Hedman’s “resignation doesn’t heal the sick or ease the suffering for residents of Flint.”
Chaffetz implied that Flint’s heavily minority and poor population might have made the EPA think differently about it. He showed a memo from the regional office saying, “I’m not so sure Flint is the community we want to go out on a limb for.”
“Of all the communities out there, the one that’s having the toughest time is the one that needs the most protecting,” he said.
But Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), while also angry at the EPA, cautioned against focusing only on the federal agency and not on Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and other Michigan officials.
“I’m not trying to protect anybody except the people of Flint,” he said. “But under federal law and regulations, states have the primary responsibility to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Snyder will testify at a Thursday hearing on Flint, along with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyThe Clean Water Rule: One year later How Congress got to yes on toxic chemical reform Overnight Energy: Labor rift opens over green mega-donor MORE.