WASHINGTON – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder finally appeared before a congressional committee Thursday to testify about the water crisis in Flint.
The House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform has been asking for Snyder to appear since the first hearing about the water crisis Feb. 3.
Snyder blamed the government for not taking action sooner to solve the water crisis. Flint, in deep financial trouble, switched to a water source that put lead into the city’s drinking water. Lead can cause problems in mental and physical development of young children.
“Let me be blunt,” he said in his opening remarks. “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state, and federal officials – we all failed the families of Flint.”
But his apologies got no sympathy from the committee, as several members of the committee encouraged him to resign.
“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,” Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., said. “There you are dripping with guilt. … People who put dollars over the fundamental safety of the people do not belong in government, and you need to resign, too, Governor Snyder.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy also testified. She could not answer whether she would have fired Susan Hedman, the local EPA adminstrator, if she had not resigned. McCarthy called Hedman’s act of stepping down “courageous.” McCarthy said the crisis was not EPA’s fault and refused to take the blame.
“I will take responsibility for not pushing hard enough, but I will not take responsibility for causing this problem,” McCarthy said. “It was not EPA at the helm when this happened.”
McCarthy was also encouraged to resign.
“The administrator is getting vacation time bonuses while the kids are getting poisoned,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said.
Mica criticized McCarthy for not taking action until January when she knew about the EPA report in June.
“Now I hear calls for resignation – I think you should be at the top of the list,” he said.
Residents of Flint were standing outside of the crowded hearing room, but most couldn’t get in. Most of them were wearing shirts and hats that said “Flint Lives Matter.”
Aaron Dunigan, 30, who has lived in the city since he was 7 years old, suffered from the water crisis personally. His 20-month-old daughter, Ava Grace Dunigan, spent the last two Christmases in the hospital. Dunigan said his daughter contracted pneumonia and a respiratory syncytial virus. She also suffered from a yeast and urinary tract infection.
“This past Christmas she was there for eight days in ICU,” Dunigan said. “I can’t express how much hurt lies with seeing your daughter in the hospital and there’s nothing you can do.”
Dunigan blamed it all on the water because it was used to make his daughter’s formula.
“Many nights I spent crying with my wife because there was nothing we could do,” he said. “And then to find out it’s a cause of someone trying to save money – there are no words to describe how a father feels.”
His daughter is home and doing well.
Dunigan was standing in line hoping to see Snyder testify, but knew the presence of the Flint residents could be felt inside the hearing room.
“It was long overdue – he should have been here,” Dunigan said. “There shouldn’t have even been any request for him to come – it should have been a demand for him to be here.”
Dunigan said more needs to be done.
“Somebody needs to pay for this,” he said. “When we do something wrong, the government makes sure somebody pays for it. But why is it when the government does something wrong, no ones being held responsible?”
Reach reporter Erica King at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Download photos: Flint.zip