Snyder set to testify to Congress on Flint

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Gov. Rick Snyder will testify before Congress on March 17 about the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water on a panel that includes Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy, officials say.

The House Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday announced the dates for two Flint-focused hearings.

Another is planned two days earlier on March 15, where the invited witnesses include Darnell Earley, the former emergency manager of Flint, and Susan Hedman, the former Midwest Region 5 administrator for the EPA who resigned Feb. 1.

The panel on March 15 includes former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech engineering professor who helped bring public attention to the Flint crisis after testing for lead at residential homes. Edwards now works with the city of Flint on water testing and lead pipe issues.

For nearly two years, Flint has dealt with lead contamination stemming from a switch in the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014. The switch occurred under the oversight of Earley, an emergency manager appointed by Snyder.

The crisis has been blamed in part on state officials’ failure to require Flint to add anti-corrosion treatment to the river water to keep lead from leaching from the city's aging service lines.

State environmental officials said they believed the federal Lead and Copper Rule required two six-month rounds of testing before a determination on the use of corrosion measures needed to be made.

The EPA has said it repeatedly and urgently communicated the steps that Michigan needed to take to properly treat Flint's water. But in a July 1, 2015, email, Hedman called it “premature” to have told Walling about lead levels in Flint’s drinking water and kept the preliminary report in-house for another four months.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the Oversight panel, held a Feb. 3 hearing including Edwards, as well as the current chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, has criticized Snyder for ignoring requests from the panel’s political minority for documents related to the Flint crisis, and this week asked Chaffetz to compel Snyder to produce them.

“We are very encouraged because we have a new agreement with the chairman to obtain documents from Gov. Snyder and conduct transcribed interviews with some of his key emergency managers before these hearings take place,” Cummings said in a statement Thursday.

“These steps will allow the committee to do a more complete and thorough investigation and hold officials accountable, and I thank the chairman.”

Cummings, joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, last month requested from Snyder records 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.

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 former state environmental chief Dan Wyant, and emails to or from employees of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Snyder on Monday said his office will eventually release thousands of pages of emails that his staff sent or received related to Flint’s water supply switch and subsequent contamination dating back to 2011.

The committee will hold hearings on March 15 and March 17. Witnesses at the first hearing are Darnell Earley, former emergency manager for the City of Flint; Dayne Walling, former Flint Mayor; Susan Hedman, former Region 5 Administrator at the EPA; and Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards.

Aides have said Snyder plans to push for a national discussion on removing lead water pipelines when he addresses the committee.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, also intends to hold a March hearing on the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint. A date for the hearing has not been set.

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