Chaffetz heads to Flint ahead of congressional hearings

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Utah Republican convening two congressional hearings on the Flint water crisis next week is traveling to Flint on Saturday.

A spokeswoman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, confirmed the trip, which will be Chaffetz’s first visit to Flint.

He is expected to meet with Mayor Karen Weaver at the Flint Water Plant, go on a tour of the plant and then attend an open house put on by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staff at the New Standard School.

Chaffetz will be joined by Michigan Republican Reps. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, John Moolenaar of Midland and Tim Walberg of Tipton, who sits on the oversight panel.

Chaffetz’s trip comes a week after 20 congressional Democrats converged in Flint to hear concerns from residents suffering from the ongoing lead contamination of the drinking water there. The House oversight chairman held a Feb. 3 hearing including Keith Creagh, the current chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the head of EPA’s water office.

Chaffetz’s oversight committee holds its second Flint hearing on Tuesday — one of two scheduled for next week. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, are scheduled to testify Thursday.

On Tuesday, the committee will hear testimony from former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, under whom the city officially switched from treated Lake Huron water to water from the Flint River, which ended up corroding aging service lines that leached lead into the water supply.

Tuesday’s panel includes former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and the former chief of the EPA’s Midwest Region 5, Susan Hedman, who dismissed one of her own water quality expert’s early warnings about lead in Flint’s water. Hedman resigned her position Feb. 1.

Also joining Tuesday’s panel will be 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.

This week, the committee privately interviewed Dan Wyant, former chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; and Jerry Ambrose, who served as Flint’s emergency manager from January to April 2015. The committee is also working to set up an interview date with Edward Kurtz, another former Flint emergency manager, said MJ Henshaw, a committee spokeswoman.

For nearly two years, Flint has dealt with lead contamination stemming from switching the city’s water source to the Flint River in April 2014. The crisis has been blamed in part on state officials’ failure to require Flint to add anti-corrosion treatment to the river water.

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” for her staff to have told Walling about lead levels in Flint’s drinking water and kept a preliminary report in-house for another four months.

Another hearing on Flint, announced by the House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Republican Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, has been postponed.

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