WASHINGTON - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is responsible for lead contamination in Flint, Michigan's water supply and would likely face criminal charges if he were running a business, a Democratic lawmaker said Thursday.
"There is no doubt in my mind that if a corporate CEO did what Governor Snyder's administration has done, he would be hauled up on criminal charges," Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said of the Republican governor.
"The board of directors would throw him out. And the shareholders would revolt," Cummings said.
Snyder told the panel at a contentious hearing that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality repeatedly gave him assurances that water being piped in from the Flint River was safe, when in reality it had dangerous levels of lead.
Complete Coverage: Flint Water Crisis
But Cummings said the governor should have done more to push back against state experts. The committee has obtained documents "showing that people all around the governor were sounding the alarms, but he either ignored them or didn't hear them," Cummings said, citing emails showing that Snyder's top legal adviser warned in October 2014 that Flint should "get back on the Detroit (water) system" as soon as possible "before this thing gets too far out of control."
Chaffetz and other Republicans complained that while Snyder has apologized for his role in the Flint crisis, McCarthy and other EPA have repeatedly denied responsibility. Chaffetz said he was especially galled by McCarthy's comment that it was "courageous" for the EPA's Midwest regional chief to resign as the Flint crisis worsened.
Chaffetz called the comment offensive and told McCarthy, "If you want to do the courageous thing, then you, too, should resign."
McCarthy, for her part, faulted state officials for the crisis, which occurred when Flint switched from the Detroit water system and began drawing from the Flint River to save money. The impoverished city was under state management at the time.
"The crisis we're seeing was the result of a state-appointed emergency manager deciding that the city would stop purchasing treated drinking water and instead switch to an untreated source to save money," McCarthy said. "The state of Michigan approved that decision, and did so without requiring corrosion control treatment. Without corrosion control, lead from pipes, fittings and fixtures can leach into the drinking water. These decisions resulted in Flint residents being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead."
Under questioning from Chaffetz, McCarthy said the EPA should have done more to head off the crisis, but she repeatedly said she did not have the authority to "pull a switch" and force Flint to change its water source. The EPA issued an emergency order about Flint's water in January 2016, several months after Flint switch back to the Detroit water system.
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