(WASHINGTON) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told lawmakers Thursday that an “ineffective” response by the Environmental Protection Agency caused a delayed response to Flint’s water crisis, even as he admitted state and local officials took missteps that created the city’s lead contamination.
Snyder and the Obama administration’s top environmental official appeared before a House committee in a contentious hearing as lawmakers spent the morning seeking to pin down who bears responsibility for the disaster.
Members of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were unified in their disgust that the poisoning of Flint’s water supply was allowed to occur, but they were split on who deserved the most blame.
Democrats focused their anger at Snyder, a Republican, and other state officials, while panel Republicans spent the morning chastising EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her agency for not acting more quickly.
“If the EPA doesn’t know when to step in and ensure a community has safe drinking water, I’m not sure why it exists at all,” said committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
The questioning of witnesses frequently grew heated at times as both Snyder and McCarthy accepted some blame for the debacle in Flint while saying the bulk of the responsibility lay elsewhere.
“Pretty soon we will have men who strike their wives saying ‘I’m sorry dear, but there were failures at all levels,'” Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., told Snyder before saying the governor should resign.
Flint’s problems began when the city switched its water source from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in 2014 as a cost-cutting measure. The river water was not treated properly for erosion and lead from aging pipes leached into Flint’s water supply, causing a public health crisis in the city.
In his opening statement, Snyder said he wanted to move past the finger pointing and focus on solutions, but he didn’t hold back on blaming the state’s environmental office and the EPA for Flint’s water crisis.
“Inefficient, ineffective, and unaccountable bureaucrats at the EPA allowed this disaster to continue unnecessarily,” Synder said.
In her own testimony, McCarthy argued state officials made the mistakes that led to the lead contamination.
“The crisis we’re seeing was the result of a state-appointed emergency manager deciding that the city would stop purchasing treated drinking water and instead switch to an untreated source to save money,” McCarthy said.
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