U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks at a campaign event for 1st District Congressional candidate Jack Bergman. Jonathan Oosting, The Detroit News
Traverse City — U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday he is confident Congress will finalize a Flint aid package by the end of the year, calling the city’s water contamination crisis “a legitimate problem” the federal government should address.
But the Wisconsin Republican, speaking at a congressional campaign event in Traverse City, declined to say how large he would like the final package to be.
“I don’t negotiate in the press,” Ryan said.
The House last week approved a measure that would authorize $170 million in spending on infrastructure in communities like Flint that are suffering from public health emergencies due to contaminated drinking water.
The Senate previously approved a $220 million plan, including $100 million for which Flint could qualify. The two chambers are expected to reconcile their differences after the Nov. 8 election.
The House advanced the Flint-inspired funding through the Water Resources Development Act – a move that helped avoid a shutdown of the federal government. Senate Democrats had pushed to include the funding in a continuing resolution.
“The point is, the House passed the bill, and the Senate passed a bill,” Ryan said Monday. “They’re very similar, and that is the right way to address a very legitimate problem, which is Flint.”
Discussing the push for Flint aid, Ryan said the federal Environmental Protection Agency was “a source of a lot of the problems in the first place.”
At a March 17 U.S. House Oversight hearing, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and federal Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy faced scathing criticism from congressional members and calls to resign for the roles of their government agencies in the Flint water contamination crisis.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top Midwest official told The Detroit News in January her department knew as early as April 2015 about the lack of corrosion controls in Flint’s water supply but said her hands were tied in bringing the information to the public. EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman resigned Feb. 1.
A task force appointed by Snyder said government agencies at all levels contributed to the ongoing Flint crisis, but members placed primary blame on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Harsh Flint River water, used by the city between April 2014 and October 2015, damaged aging pipes and leached lead into drinking water. Residents continue to rely on bottled and filtered water for daily needs.
Snyder and state legislators have so far approved more than $234 million in Flint-related aid. Congress has not yet finalized any specific funding.
Michigan’s congressional delegation has fought for Flint aid, which the House added to the water resources legislation through an amendment sponsored by U.S. Reps. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township.
Most Michigan lawmakers voted for the House amendment, with the exception of Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, who voted “present.”
Ryan praised Michigan members for what he called “a very good advancement on Flint,” saying House leadership had “wanted all along” to address the issue through the water resource legislation because the city’s lead contamination crisis is water-related.
“That bill is making its way through,” Ryan said. “It will get done in December or November, and I’m confident Flint will be addressed there.”
The House deal for Flint in the water resources legislation paved the way for the Senate to pass a stopgap funding measure to keep the government operating until Dec. 9.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township still voted last week against the government-funding measure. They were pleased that House Republicans changed course and indicated a willingness to help Flint, but both still opposed a short-term funding resolution because it included aid for flood victims in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland, but not Flint.
“I could not support a government spending bill that will — once again — force the citizens of Flint to wait on the help they so desperately need,” Peters said on the Senate floor.
Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.