House panel invites DEQ chief to testify on Flint water

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The new chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is among the witnesses invited to testify at a congressional hearing on the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water next week.

Keith Creagh, the state’s chief environmental director, has been invited to appear before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday, according to a committee spokesman.

The hearing is expected to focus on the inaction by Michigan and federal officials, who for months didn’t alert Flint residents to the health risks caused by lead leaching into the water supply.

In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Friday, Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, cited a Detroit News article for raising “serious questions about the Environmental Protection Agency’s performance with respect to alerting the public about a health crisis related to the Flint, Michigan water supply.”

Gov. Rick Snyder, who is not being asked to testify next week, has said the DEQ failed to use common sense and ensure corrosion controls were added to the Flint River water when the city switched from the Detroit water system in April 2014.

Several committee Democrats, including Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, have criticized Snyder’s exclusion from Wednesday’s hearing.

Other invited witnesses include Joel Beauvais, acting deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Water at the EPA; Miguel Del Toral, a water expert for the EPA’s Midwest Region 5 Water Division; Marc Edwards, professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech University, who helped detect the elevated lead levels in Flint’s water; and Darnell Earley, former emergency manager of Flint. Additional witnesses could still be added.

Although EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman is resigning effective Monday, Chaffetz told McCarthy he wants an interview with Hedman “as soon as possible,” citing her lack of urgency in responding to the Flint situation.

“Her sudden departure raises serious questions about EPA’s response to the Flint crisis,” Chaffetz wrote.

He also requested, by Feb. 9, documents and communications to and from Hedman related to the Flint water supply, and those referring to EPA water expert Del Toral, who penned an in-house memo in February 2015 raising flags about problems posed by the lack of corrosion controls in Flint’s water. His superiors have been criticized for failing to heed his warnings and publicizing the health risks to Flint’s residents.

Chaffetz also requested from McCarthy records and communications to or from Del Toral related to his memo or his work duties between Jan. 1 and Nov. 1, 2015.

In a separate letter, Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, former chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology, also wrote to McCarthy. Sensenbrenner asked for her responses to a series of questions related to her agency’s handling of the Flint crisis.

Snyder appointed Creagh to head DEQ late last year after Director Dan Wyant stepped down Dec. 29 over his agency’s handling of the crisis. Edwards is one of the outside researchers who uncovered and publicized high lead levels in residents’ water. Edwards is now a water consultant for the city of Flint.

Earley, emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, was Flint’s emergency manager when the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. His predecessor, Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz, made the decision.

Separately, Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, joined by Lawrence, on Friday wrote to Snyder, requesting an interview with Wyant and records related to the decision to switch Flint’s water supply and the ensuing health crisis.

Wyant’s “sudden departure ... raises serious questions about the state’s response to the Flint crisis,” they wrote.

Cummings and Lawrence want documents since January 2013 related to the drinking water supply in Flint, including emails to or from Snyder’s staff, former state Treasurer Andy Dillon and others; and several former Flint emergency managers, including Earley.

They also requested documents since April 2014 relating to public complaints about Flint’s water quality, test results, Legionnaires’ disease and steps taken to inform the public about the detection of lead and other water contaminants, including emails to or from Wyant, and emails to or from employees of the state Department of Health & Human Services.

The Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday sent a letter to Chaffetz urging him to reconsider not inviting Snyder, writing in part: “The governor has admitted harm, numerous missteps and seemingly has a blatant disregard for the care of the citizens of Flint. Governor Snyder has been a central figure in the decision-making process that led to the water crisis and to that end should be invited to testify before the Committee.”

Staff Writer Jim Lynch contributed

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