- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Michigan should have reacted to the Flint water crisis sooner, the state’s top environmental official told Congress on Wednesday, saying officials got caught up in technical compliance with the law instead of making sure residents had safe drinking water.

Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, told House investigators his agency should have ordered Flint to begin pipe-corrosion treatments once lead levels began to rise instead of relying on federal treatment schedules that proved inadequate.

In apologizing, though, he said local officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also stumbled along with the state.

“We all let the citizens of Flint down,” he told the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at a hearing that showcased both bipartisan anger and deeply partisan efforts to pin blame.

An EPA official said it “encountered resistance” from the state when it told them to address the lack of corrosion control, while others pointed fingers at local officials.

Democrats fumed that Republicans, who control the committee, did not call Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, to testify at the hearing. Mr. Creagh took over in December after MDEQ chief Dan Wyant resigned as part of the Flint fallout.

“We are missing the most critical witness of all: the governor,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat. “He is not here.”

Mr. Snyder has apologized for the crisis and sought $30 million Wednesday to pay Flint residents’ water bills on top of $37.3 million that’s been allocated for relief.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah and his fellow Republicans largely trained their sights on the Obama administration’s EPA, saying one of the agency’s employees knew of high lead levels in June 2015.

“When they knew there was a problem, they should have told the public,” Mr. Chaffetz told Joel Beauvais, acting deputy assistant EPA administrator for water.

The crisis began in early 2014, when the city switched the source of its water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. Corrosion from the water caused lead to leach from pipes.

Flint residents were outraged that state and federal officials did not sound the alarm, even as their children were exposed to lead poisoning that can severely impede physical and mental development.

“What happened in Flint was avoidable and should never have happened,” said Mr. Beauvais.

Mr. Creagh, prodded by Republicans, said the crisis would not have happened had Flint kept using the Detroit water source.

Democrats, however, said Mr. Snyder’s emergency manager made the decision to switch.

“There’s a public relations campaign that’s underway right now to try to say these were local decisions or, ‘No, it was actually the EPA,’ to deflect responsibility from the state of Michigan,” testified Rep. Daniel T. Kildee, a Michigan Democrat from Flint. “This was a decision by an emergency manager in Flint to go to the Flint River water source, the critical decision that was made that precipitated this entire crisis.”

In a letter to Mr. Chaffetz, committee Democrats requested another hearing that would include Mr. Snyder and the trio of emergency managers he appointed to govern Flint since 2011.

Mr. Chaffetz said the committee summoned one of them, Darnell Earley, to sit for a deposition, after his attorney refused service of a subpoena Tuesday.

“We’re calling on the U.S. Marshals to hunt him down and give him that subpoena,” Mr. Chaffetz said.

Hours later, Mr. Earley’s attorney said his client had “always been cooperative.”

“We just needed a valid subpoena and a reasonable time frame to appear,” A. Scott Bolden said in an email. “With those in place, I would accept service of the subpoena and we would appear.”

The committee also will subpoena Susan Hedman, the regional EPA supervisor whose jurisdiction included Flint. She resigned last month, but the chairman still wants to speak to her, saying she appeared to put policy ahead of safety.

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