When Michigan governor Rick Snyder sat before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday, he had to lay his hands flat on the table in front of him because they were shaking. If his hands were steady by the time he left, it may be because his entire body had gone numb. The Flint water crisis led to almost 9,000 children drinking lead-rich water and has been tentatively linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. This, the third hearing on the issue, consisted of tough questions and accusations, often shouted or hurled, in the direction of the governor and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.
For good measure, there were several calls for both officials’ resignations, as well as some musings on their potential legal problems. Snyder, as well as other Republicans, tried repeatedly to shift blame onto the EPA for delaying oversight and letting contamination get out of hand. Democrats on the committee mostly took shots at Snyder and his administration.
A few highlights and gotchas:
Elijah Cummings: “There will be an entire generation of children who won’t be able to read See Spot Run.”
Much of the hearing was an effort to iron out the timeline of who knew what and when as Flint’s water grew tainted. Representative Cummings brings up the warning about Flint and lead that Snyder received from his top counsel in October 2014 and his call for a stopgap measure to make sure the contamination did not become a crisis. This is almost a year before Snyder acknowledged, in September 2015, that there was any problem with the water in Flint.
Cummings continues: “Either you knew and did nothing, or you are an absentee governor.”
In this exchange, Snyder admits that in October 2014 he had discussions with his staff about problems with the water in Flint. However, he says that they did not talk about lead specifically. They talked about color, odor, and E. coli in the water, all of which were deemed to be at acceptably safe levels. At the same time, General Motors cut off its use of Flint water because the chloride content was corroding its engine parts.
Representative Matt Cartwright: “Plausible deniability only works when it is plausible.”
The knockout punch of the hearing: “People who put dollars over the fundamental safety of the people do not belong in government, and you need to resign, too, Governor Snyder.”
Representative Jason Chaffetz to the EPA: “You messed up 100,000 people’s lives.”
Chaffetz chronicles the sluggishness and delays after the EPA received several warnings from emergency managers. The public chiding reaches a peak at 12:45: “You need to take some responsibility, ’cause ya screwed up!”