Oversight chairman to EPA chief: You should resign over Flint

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday urged Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyGlobal climate pact may bump into Senate roadblock House Dems push EPA on fracking study Watchdog: EPA was too slow to act on Flint MORE to resign over the water crisis in Flint, Mich.

“If you want to do the courageous thing ... then you too should resign,” Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse panel tells fed agency to stop selling recalled cars Trump's big worry isn't rigged elections, it's GOP establishment State pushes back on GOP calls for 'quid pro quo' investigation MORE (R-Utah) told McCarthy, who had previously hailed a regional administrator’s resignation in January as "courageous."  

“You had the opportunity, you had the presence, you had the authority, you had the backing of the federal government, and you did not act when you had the chance. And if you’re going to do the courageous thing then you, too, should resign.”

Chaffetz said the EPA had the power to step in and correct water issues in Flint once it determined there was an “immediate threat” to the drinking water in the city, following a switch from Detroit's water supply as a cost-savings emasure. Republicans during the hearing pointed to warnings the EPA had received relating to rising lead levels in the city’s water, including an internal memo from an on-the-ground staffer sent last June.

In January, the EPA issued an order requiring Michigan and Flint address the water issues in Flint.

But before then, McCarthy said, the agency did what it was supposed to with those warnings, including pushing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to play a more aggressive role in fixing corrosion issues in the city. The MDEQ, she and Democrats noted, has the primarily regulatory power over water issues in the state under federal law.  

“If there was anything I could have done, any switch that I could have turned on, that would have allowed us to go further than what was happening at that time, I would have pulled that switch,” she said.

Officials in Michigan, McCarthy said, were not forthcoming in telling the EPA about the actions they were taking in the city.

“We were strong-armed, we were misled, we were kept at arm’s length, we couldn’t do our jobs effectively,” she said.

That response wasn’t enough for Republicans on the committee.

“You failed,” Chaffetz said. “You said, ‘if there is anything I could do, if there was any switch I could pull’ — you had that under the law and you didn’t do it.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, hit back at McCarthy, saying the state had discussed the matter with federal officials.

“They were in dialog, they were talking about doing things together,” he told the committee, referencing emails between state and federal officials. “And when I read these things, I’m ready to get sick. We need urgency, we needed action, and they keep on talking. It’s not about fighting, it’s about getting the job done.”

Democrats hammered at Snyder’s response to the crisis on Thursday, with several saying his should step down. But Republicans looked to probe the EPA’s role in the situation, and criticized McCarthy personally for not doing enough.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) also called for McCarthy’s resignation during Thursday’s hearing.

“We’ve heard calls for resignation, and I think you should be at the top of the list,” he said.

—This post was updated at 12:08 p.m.