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House panel blocks Flint-related subpoena bid for gov

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Republicans on the U.S. House committee that investigated the Flint water crisis on Tuesday blocked an amendment proposed by a Michigan Democrat to subpoena Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for documents he hasn’t provided to the committee regarding Flint.

Snyder’s office has said it provided the oversight committee with hundreds of thousands of pages of records and complied “fully” with committee requests, saying the Democrats’ demands amount to partisan attacks. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality didn’t insist that Flint officials add anti-corrosion additives to its drinking supply when the city switched to the Flint River from the Detroit water system, leading to lead contamination of the water.

“Mr. Chairman, you personally went to Flint and made public promises that this committee would get the answers. ... But here we are today — one year later — still waiting for documents,” U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said at a meeting of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“Is this committee going to let him get away with that? I offered this amendment because the committee must decide that question. Let’s work together to complete this investigation properly — with answers to the men and women and children of the City of Flint.”

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, responded to Lawrence.

“I appreciate the gentlewoman’s passion and commitment. I know it is sincere and deep and thorough,” Chaffetz said, adding that the Flint hearings were among the committee’s most important accomplishments of the last session of Congress.

“I think they have made great progress (in Flint). ... There are prosecutions in place. The attorney general is heavily involved in Michigan. But I stand opposed to this amendment.”

Democrats on the oversight panel in recent weeks renewed their call for a subpoena for Snyder’s records and criticized Chaffetz for “prematurely” closing the committee’s Flint probe.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said last week that the committee should reopen the investigation with a renewed focus on Snyder and three emergency financial managers he appointed in Flint — two of which are facing criminal charges in Michigan.

In a December letter, Cummings said Snyder has refused to provide or search for key documents requested by the committee, and that the Snyder administration has obstructed the panel’s work.

Lawrence said Tuesday that the records sought include “key documents” about how the Snyder administration addressed the water crisis, and that Snyder’s attorneys responded that it would cost too much to produce the records.

“Would we accept an excuse like this from any other government agency? We have not, and I don’t think we should now,” Lawrence told Chaffetz. “The people of Flint can still not drink the water coming from their faucets because it’s still not safe.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Chaffetz said it’s “highly unacceptable” that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken so long to revise the outdated Lead and Copper Rule, which regulates lead levels in drinking water.

“We’re disappointed that didn’t happen in the Obama administration. We call upon the Trump administration to accelerate that time line,” Chaffetz said, referring to the agency’s estimated 2018 date for final revisions.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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