Michigan governor: ‘We all failed the families of Flint’

Haiyun Jiang

Michigan's governor told House lawmakers on Thursday that Flint’s drinking water crisis was the result of failures by the local, state and federal governments.

“Let me be blunt. This was a failure of government at all levels,” Gov. Rick Snyder (R) told the House Oversight Committee. “Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint.”

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In a rare congressional appearance by a sitting governor, Snyder expressed remorse for his role in causing Flint’s drinking water to be contaminated with lead and other pollutants.

But he also highlighted everything he and others in Michigan are doing to help Flint recover and get the city's 100,000 residents access to clean water.

“Not a day or night goes by that this tragedy doesn’t weigh on my mind,” he said. “The questions I should have asked, the answers I should have demanded, how I could have prevented this. That’s why I am so committed to delivering permanent, long-term solutions and the clean, safe drinking water that every Michigan citizen deserves.”

Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyConvention shows Democrats support fracking, activists on the fringe Overnight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal EPA chief: US, negotiators nearing new emissions deal MORE, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was more forceful in her criticism. While recognizing that the EPA could have done more to prevent and mitigate the disaster, she put a great deal of blame on Snyder.

“Looking back on Flint, from day one, the state provided our regional office with confusing, incomplete and incorrect information,” McCarthy told the panel.

“Their interactions with us were intransigent, misleading and contentious. As a result, EPA staff were unable to understand the potential scope of the lead problem until more than a year after that water supply was switched.”

She reminded the panel that the EPA did not cause the crisis, but it might have been able to do more to stop it.

It is the first time both Snyder and McCarthy testified under oath about Flint’s water crisis, though both have largely been at the center of it.

It was Snyder whose emergency manager overseeing Flint directed it to switch its water source to the Flint River as part of a money-saving measure in April 2014.

The emergency manager resisted efforts to undo the switch, and Snyder's Department of Environmental Protection downplayed residents’ concerns about the water up until late 2015.

Snyder, who has repeatedly apologized for his role in the matter, volunteered to testify before the panel after numerous Democrats called for him to appear and pressed Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzIRS chief blasts impeachment push in Chaffetz's home state Overnight Energy: Volkswagen faces another emissions lawsuit Fast and Furious: Are you listening Congress? MORE (R-Utah) to force him to show.

But some EPA employees knew about the lead problem in early 2015. While the agency repeatedly pushed Michigan to implement corrosion controls that would have stopped the lead contamination, it didn’t take further action until January 2016.

Snyder said that “inefficient, ineffective and unaccountable bureaucrats at the EPA allowed this disaster to continue unnecessarily.”

Snyder’s and McCarthy’s testimony followed opening statements from Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who had harsh criticisms for both.

Chaffetz directed most of his scorn to McCarthy, saying her agency did not do more to stop the catastrophe.

“I’ve seen a lot of things before the committee, but the lack of action here, the lack of letting people know so they could make an informed decision, is very concerning. It’s very concerning,” he said.

Chaffetz also presented a memo showing that EPA employee said Flint might not be “the community we want to go out on a limb for” to help.

“It’s ones of the most offensive, concerning things I’ve seen that there were people, more than one, making decisions and thinking maybe Flint isn’t the community we should go out on a limb for,” he said. “Are you kidding me? Of all the communities out there, Flint is the number one place that that they should go out on a limb for!”

Cummings agreed, in part, but also pointed a finger solidly at Snyder.

“I agree the EPA should have done more, they should have rushed in sooner to rescue the people of Michigan from Gov. Snyder’s vindictive administration and his utter incompetence at every level,” he said.

“The EPA should have snatched control from Gov. Snyder's administration, but Gov. Snyder’s administration caused this horrific disaster and poisoned the people of Flint.”

Devin Henry contributed to this story.