House panel closes probe into Flint water crisis

House panel closes probe into Flint water crisis
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The House Oversight Committee Friday closed its investigation into the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis, concluding that a “failure of government at all levels” caused and exacerbated the catastrophe.

Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah) closed the 11-month probe with a pair of letters to the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, summarizing the findings that pertain to each of their jurisdictions.

“The documents and testimony show a series of failures at all levels of government caused, and then exacerbated, the water crisis. The committee found significant problems at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and unacceptable delays in the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the crisis,” Chaffetz wrote to Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

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“The committee also found that the federal regulatory framework is so outdated that it sets up states to fail,” he said. The note to Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton was similar.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the panel, did not sign onto Chaffetz’s letter despite the Democrats’ participation in the probe.

A spokeswoman for Cummings castigated Chaffetz for closing the investigation before the panel had all of the information it requested from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

“There was bipartisan frustration with Governor Snyder’s obstruction just a few days ago, so it’s inexplicable that Chairman Chaffetz would now suddenly reverse himself and rush to close down this investigation instead of issuing a subpoena to compel the governor to produce the documents the Chairman himself requested,” the spokeswoman said. “This does a real disservice to the families of Flint who hoped they would get a fair shake from our committee.”

Cummings sent an open letter to Chaffetz earlier Friday asking him to subpoena Snyder for the remaining records.

The crisis entered the national spotlight in late 2015, when Snyder publicly acknowledged that dangerous levels of lead had been found in Flint’s water.

The contamination happened after a Snyder appointee switched Flint’s water supply to save money. But Snyder’s staff resisted taking the extra steps needed to keep the city's aging pipes from leaching lead into the water.

The EPA also acted slowly, taking months to order the changes necessary to protect the city of 100,000, the committee concluded. Ultimately, thousands of children were exposed to the toxic metal, which can cause developmental problems.

Snyder has taken responsibility for the matter.

Chaffetz made a number of recommendations to prevent future crises like Flint's.

He asked that the Appropriations Committee consider reducing the $279.8 million that the EPA under Obama requested for addressing climate change, and removing the requirement that federally funded drinking water construction projects pay prevailing wages under the Davis Bacon Act.

Chaffetz also asked the Energy and Commerce Committee to order an investigation into why it’s taking the EPA so long to update its regulation on lead levels in water, and to consider whether water utilities’ notification requirements for contamination need to be strengthened.

Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Snyder, welcomed Chaffetz’s findings.

“Gov. Snyder appreciates the committee’s work and for referring recommendations for policy changes to the appropriate committees. He is a strong proponent of revising the federal Lead and Copper Rule and has been working with Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech to see those reforms through the legislative process,” she said.

The probe included three hearings, interviews with local and state officials, a visit to Flint, meetings with Flint residents and reviewing tens of thousands of pages of documents, among other actions.