Michigan governor, EPA chief under fire for Flint

Michigan governor, EPA chief under fire for Flint
© Getty Images

House Democrats said Michigan’s governor should resign over Flint’s water crisis, while Republicans said the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should quit at a fiery hearing on Thursday.

Democrats focused most of their fire on Gov. Rick Snyder (R), blaming him both for allowing an emergency manager to switch Flint’s water supply as a cost-savings measure and for not acting quickly enough to respond to the ensuing health problems.

ADVERTISEMENT
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) blasted Snyder at a House Oversight Committee hearing as having a “vindictive administration” that showcased “utter incompetence at every level.”

Republicans focused mostly on the EPA, which knew about the water issues facing Flint months before it became a crisis.

Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOvernight Finance: Trump pitches massive tax cuts | Freedom Caucus endorses plan | Dems slam framework | House GOP to move B border wall bill | Officials under fire for private jet use GOP lawmaker pushes to end sports leagues' tax-exempt status Republicans predict Senate ObamaCare repeal would pass House MORE (R-Utah), the committee’s chairman, said EPA chief Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyTrump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on EPA chief to visit Colorado mine spill site In the fight between Rick Perry and climate scientists, Perry is winning MORE should do the “courageous thing” and resign. 

“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,” he said. “And if you’re going to do the courageous thing then you, too, should resign.”

While the two parties mostly kept their fire aimed at their favored political targets, Cummings did say that federal officials shared in the blame, arguing they should have stepped in early on the crisis.

“There will now be an entire generation of children who suffer from brain damage, learning disorders and many other horrible effects of lead poisoning that were afflicted on them by Gov. Snyder’s administration,” Cummings said.

Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyBipartisan pair wants commission to oversee Iran deal Dem lawmaker warns of 'political and moral limitations’ to working with Trump Dems ready to deal with Trump — but it's complicated MORE (D-Md.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) joined the calls for Snyder to resign, echoing Democratic presidential candidates Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Clip shows Larry David and Bernie Sanders reacting after discovering they're related For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers MORE at a recent debate in Flint.

Snyder defied those calls, saying he intends to help Flint and its residents recover from the water crisis. 

“This has been the humbling experience of my life,” he said. “I don’t believe the right answer is to walk away from it. I’m making a commitment to solve this problem because the people of Flint deserve better.”

Snyder was apologetic about the Flint water crisis, and many Republicans praised him for his work on Flint. He offered attrition — which Cartwright called “false” — and said he was assessing what more he could have done.

“This is a sad event; this is tragedy that never should have happened,” he said. “In terms of looking at this, I kick myself every day asking what more questions I could have asked, what more could have been done.”

Snyder raised concerns about the interaction between his administration and the EPA, citing emails that show officials discussing the matter with federal officials. 

Under GOP fire, McCarthy said the EPA did what it was supposed to do with those warnings, including pushing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to more aggressively fix corrosion issues in the city. The MDEQ, she and Democrats noted, has the primarily water quality enforcement power in the state under federal law.  

McCarthy said the EPA wouldn’t take blame for the problems in the city, and she dodged repeated questions from Republicans about whether she would have fired a regional EPA official who resigned in January. 

“I believe we could have taken different action,” McCarthy said “I’m not playing the blame shifting game. The system failed. We were part of that system.”

“I will take responsibility for not pushing hard enough, but I will not take responsibility for causing this problem,” she added.

Asked later Thursday about the calls for McCarthy to resign, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama “absolutely" has confidence in the EPA administrator.

He said she has “acted aggressively” to restore a clean water supply to Flint and ensure a similar crisis doesn’t occur in other cities.

Republicans hammered her agency’s response to Flint.

Rep. Paul GosarPaul GosarHouse conservatives: Rove's criticism 'wrong and misguided' House votes to block funding for EPA methane pollution rule McCain needs to start showing my constituents more respect MORE (R-Ariz.) said McCarthy’s compliments to former EPA official Susan Hedman, who resigned in January, show she doesn’t care about lead poisoning, because she should have fired Hedman.

“You know the seriousness of this issue, and yet you still don’t do that,” Gosar said. “You praised her when she resigned. That’s unbelievable.”

Gosar joined in calling on McCarthy to resign and renewed his call to impeach her, which he formally proposed in September.

“Not only am I asking you to be fired. If you’re not going to resign, you should be impeached,” he said.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) saw opportunity to harshly criticize both McCarthy and Snyder.

“If the EPA administrator should do the courageous thing and resign, then so should the governor,” she said, responding to Chaffetz’ call that McCarthy resign.

Duckworth said she was concerned that EPA is asleep on the job when it comes to lead, particularly since her home and big cities like Chicago are in the same EPA region as Flint.

At one point, Duckworth reminded McCarthy that she does not completely sympathize with the EPA’s position on Flint.

“I’m not on your side in this,” she said. “I’m certainly not on the governor’s side, I’m not on your side in this.”

Chaffetz said the hearing did not improve McCarthy’s standing in his eyes.

“She has no confidence [from] the people, she has no confidence from me and I think a lot of members of Congress, she’s had a series of missteps and problems in that office, particularly, in Region 5 that were not dealt with,” he said. “If you want a different result, you’re going to have to put somebody different in there, and she has just not shown the ability or the capability to get that Environmental Protection Agency in the right direction.”

Cummings had a similar conclusion about Snyder.

“The more I listened and the more I watched the governor, I think that it is time for him to go. He seemed to have an utter disregard for the people who he has sworn to safeguard,” he said. “I’m hoping that the governor, when he takes some time, will reflect on this hearing and all that has been said and make the right decision and leave.”

Neither Snyder nor McCarthy took questions from reporters.

- Updated at 3:21 p.m.