Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate, Jan. 19, 2016, at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich.
Photo by Al Goldis/AP

U.S. House panel to hold Flint hearing without Gov. Snyder

The House Oversight Committee is set to hold a hearing on Tuesday to seek answers from federal and state officials involved in the lead contamination that has triggered an unfolding water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The hearing will be Congress’s first effort to examine the crisis and grill five key witnesses. The panel chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said on Friday that representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will testify, alongside Flint’s former emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who resigned earlier this month.

However, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who apologized in his State of the State speech for his handling of the crisis, will not attend the hearing.

An internal report from the committee found that the Environmental Protection Agency, which has oversight over state and local water systems under federal law, had known about contamination as early as February 2015. It revealed that officials failed to alert residents about the health risks caused by lead that was leached into the water piped into thousands of Flint homes.

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For months, residents complained about the taste, smell and appearance of the water, but officials told them the water was safe. Tests later found elevated lead levels in the blood of local children.

Chaffetz wrote a letter on Friday to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy Friday, seeking documents related to the agency’s handling of the water crisis. He said the resignation of Susan Hedman, a former top EPA official, last week  “raises serious questions about EPA’s response to the Flint crisis.” Hedman knew about the water contamination, Chaffetz said, but she failed to disclosed the problem. 

Nonetheless, Democrats criticized Chaffetz for not calling Snyder to testify. 

“Gov. Snyder and his administration’s policies led to this man-made crisis, and he must testify so that whole truth can be found,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) 

Rep. Barbara Lawrence, who’s a member of Chaffetz’s panel, said she made a request for the governor to testify. She argued that he “was at the top of my list of witnesses due to the central role that he played.” 

“I am deeply disappointed at the Majority’s lack of commitment to a thorough and meaningful hearing,” she wrote in a statement. “A sincere search for truth and justice requires a full review by the entire Committee of the decisions and policies of all those involved.” 

Environment, Flint, Jason Chaffetz, Michigan and Rick Snyder

U.S. House panel to hold Flint hearing without Gov. Snyder