Oversight Dems want chairman to compel Flint records

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is still ignoring requests from the panel’s Democrats for documents related to the Flint water crisis, and Cummings wants the chairman to compel Snyder to produce them.

Snyder is expected to testify before the committee on a panel that includes U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. A second panel including former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley and Virginia Tech expert Marc Edwards is also set.

A date has not yet been set for the hearing, which would be the committee’s second on the public health emergency in Flint.

In a letter Monday to Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Cummings rejects an assertion by Chaffetz that the committee shouldn’t request records from Snyder because he might claim executive privilege over his communications, noting that Snyder has promised public accountability over the failures in Flint.

Cummings also argues that the committee’s failure to send any document requests to Snyder undermines the panel’s ability to investigate the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint and creates “an unfortunate and unnecessary perception of partisanship.”

“By declining to send any document request at all to Governor Snyder, the Committee is creating the perception of a double-standard, in which it requests documents from a Democratic governor but not from a Republican governor,” Cummings wrote, referring to Chaffetz’s document requests of the governor of Oregon for a year-long investigation into that state’s healthcare exchange.

“There is no legitimate basis for treating governors differently based on their political parties, and I believe the committee should insist on the same level of compliance from the Republican Governor of Michigan that it has required of the Democratic Governor of Oregon.”

In Flint on Monday, Cummings raised his voice considerably in reference to a lack of documents from Snyder.

“He’s refused to do that in regards to what has happened here in this great state,” Cummings said. “Of course, the EPA have done their part — they’ve submitted documents, but the governor has not submitted one document as a result of our request of our committee.”

On Feb. 12, the governor’s office posted online all of the documents from state departments requested under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. Snyder has not released emails from his staff on the Flint water issue that are protected from release under Michigan law, but he did release two years of his emails on the matter in January.

“Gov. Snyder has never said he would invoke executive privilege — and already has taken unprecedented steps to release information,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said by email.

“We’re encouraged that the congressman from Maryland is visiting Flint and will be able to see the results of the efforts from the governor and the Michigan Legislature to address Flint’s immediate and long-term needs and the city’s ongoing recovery.”

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

In the letter, Cummings renewed his request that Chaffetz forward a request for documents to Snyder that Cummings penned Jan. 29.

Cummings, joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, 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.

Chaffetz, who has criticized the EPA’s oversight of Flint’s drinking water safety, had requested from the EPA documents and communications to and from the former EPA Midwest Region 5 chief Susan Hedman related to the Flint water supply, and those referring to EPA water expert Miguel 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.

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

House Oversight committee staff is reviewing the documents and information provided by the EPA, according to a committee spokesman.

“We look forward to hearing from the governor at our hearing in March,” the committee spokesman said.


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Detroit News special writer Jacob Carah contributed.