Asked about reports of various health problems among Flint’s residents—including hair loss, Legionnaires’ disease, and E. coli contamination in the water—Snyder blamed “career bureaucrats” for wrongly stating the water was safe. “Governor Snyder, plausible deniability only works when it’s plausible,” said Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright, “and I’m not buying that you didn’t know about any of this until October 2015. You were not in a medically induced coma for a year and I’ve had about enough of your false contrition and your phony apologies.” Cartwright chastised the governor for trying to “spread accountability” to other people.
In response to one aggressive Democrat, Snyder said the experts he relied on failed, and he’s responsible for that: “I kick myself” for not demanding more answers or asking more questions, and “I’m making a commitment to solve this problem because people deserve better.” In his written testimony, he called out local and state officials for hurting Flint, and specifically blamed state environmental experts for inaccurately assessing the water’s safety.
Republican lawmakers took issue Thursday with how state and EPA personnel have been disciplined. (It’s worth noting some in the GOP, including two of its presidential candidates, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, believe the agency should be done away with altogether.) Chaffetz seemed gratified that some Michigan officials involved in handling Flint, including the state Department of Environmental Quality head, have been fired or have otherwise left their posts.
But as he insisted the EPA should’ve done more to help Flint, Chaffetz criticized McCarthy for firing no one; one official who has left her post, the regional EPA administrator with jurisdiction over Flint, voluntarily resigned. In his view, McCarthy wasn’t accepting culpability. “I will take responsibility for not pushing hard enough, but I will not take responsibility for causing this problem,” she said. “It was not EPA at the helm when this happened.”
McCarthy suggested a series of obfuscations from the state delayed the EPA’s response, and that it didn’t know local officials weren’t acting quickly enough until earlier this year. “From Day 1, the state provided our regional office with confusing, incomplete, and absolutely incorrect information,” McCarthy said in her testimony. The result? “EPA staff had insufficient information to understand the potential scope of the lead problem until more than a year after that water supply was switched. … In hindsight, we should not have been so trusting of the state for so long.” The agency was also hamstrung, she said, by the Safe Drinking Water Act, which she and other Democratic lawmakers said gives the state primary authority to act.
But that explanation wasn’t enough for some on the panel, including Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who explicitly said she wasn’t taking sides. “Would you not rather have jumped in too soon, despite the law, to protect the children of Flint? And be hauled into Congress to testify about why you stepped in too quickly to safeguard health, as opposed to why you didn’t act soon enough?”