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Another U.S. House panel plans Flint hearing

Melissa Nann Burke and Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Washington — The House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, said Friday it intends to hold a March hearing on the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint.

The panel sent letters Wednesday to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality demanding more information regarding the ongoing situation in Flint.

Committee leaders said the hearing would be based on the information it’s collecting from those agencies, seeking to gain a “comprehensive understanding” of short-and long-term implications on public health and environment. The committee did not yet announce invited witnesses or set an exact date.

On the sidelines of a Dearborn health legislation event, Upton said Friday that the Flint hearing would be bipartisan in its invitation of witnesses. He could not immediately say whether Gov. Rick Snyder would be called, but he said a number of stakeholders will be asked to participate.

“Our view is going to be: Where do we go from here? What do we do to make sure it doesn’t happen somewhere else?” Upton said.

In recent weeks, committee staff have had two bipartisan briefings on the Flint crisis with EPA’s Office of Water.

Among the committee’s inquiries to the EPA is whether the agency intends to restore any of its reductions in compliance verification of public drinking water systems and, to the extent budgetary limitations have affected its enforcement capabilities, what resources the EPA needs to fully enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Earlier this week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing where lawmakers grilled the chief of the Michigan DEQ and an EPA official for almost three hours.

Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Arizona, did not call Snyder to testify at Wednesday’s hearing, despite the request by several committee Democrats.

The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Thursday invited Snyder to testify about the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint at a 2 p.m. Feb. 10 hearing. A Snyder spokesman said his office is reviewing the invitation.

Other witnesses invited to testify include Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center who last fall detected high levels of lead in Flint children; Yanna Lambrinidou, president of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives; Bilal Kareem Tawwab, superintendent of the Flint School District; and Eric Scorsone, associate professor and founding director of the Michigan State University Extension Center for State and Local Government Policy.

The Democratic committee is an arm of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California. Republicans control the House and its committees.

The 14-member Michigan delegation is supporting a new U.S. House bill that aims to avoid crises like the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint.

Upton and Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, introduced the Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act to boost requirements for the EPA to notify the public when concentrations of lead in drinking water exceed safe levels.

The bill would direct the EPA to notify the state of the contamination it detected within 24 hours. If the state doesn’t take action to notify the public within 24 hours, then the EPA may do so. The bill could be voted on as early as Wednesday, Upton said.

“The Flint situation, it’s a heartbreak. It’s an awful thing that happened,” the southwest Michigan Republican said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that no other community ever goes through what we are going through here in Michigan now.”

The legislation is similar to a bill introduced last week by U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

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