Political Climate
Mar 18, 2016
AD FEEDBACK Rep. Chaffetz Eviscerates EPA Head McCarthy Over Agency Inaction in Flint Water Crisis

By Jeff Dunetz

Ouch! That’s going to leave a scar!

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy and the Republican Governor of Michigan Rick Snyder each testified about the Flint Michigan water crisis on Thursday before the House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform. When questioned by committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Governor Snyder admitted mistakes and said that people responsible for the errors were fired. Ms. McCarthy arrogantly refused to acknowledge any EPA mistakes, provoking Chaffetz to “lose it” at the administrator - and call for her resignation.

The hearings addressed the EPA’s failure to take action immediately, after EPA Region 5 (which includes Michigan) regulations Manager Miguel Del Toral began to sound warnings after he visited Flint in February 2015, and followed with series of memos. The first memo was written in April 2015 indicating there were high lead-levels, but they didn’t know exactly where they were coming from. He said that water samples were being tested by Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards who should provide answers to the origin of the lead. The June 2015 memo contained professor Edwards’ report, which indicated where the water was being contaminated, as well as the seriousness of the problem.

The EPA, however, did not get involved until January 2016.

Sworn testimony earlier that same week at the Snyder/McCarthy hearings given by Marc Edwards indicated that Mr. Del Toral was afraid of pushing the issue because his superiors at the EPA might retaliate.

Mr. Edwards:  I do not think Ms. Hedman [Susan Hedman Mr. Del Toral’s boss] understands the climate she created at Region 5 EPA. Even before Mr. Del Toral wrote that memo, he told me that he had to protect Flint’s children while minimizing the likelihood he would be retaliated against.

Mr. Meadows:  Had he shared with you that he has been retaliated against? Is that your belief?

Mr. Edwards:  Well, I mean, obviously he was told not to talk to anyone in Flint or about Flint. A deal of some sort was made between EPA and MDEQ where MDEQ felt emboldened to say that “they had handled Mr. Del Toral.” That Flint residents would not be hearing from Mr. Del Toral again.

EPA’s Susan Hedman resigned of because of the Flint water crisis in January, 2016.

Adding fuel to the fire, on September 26, 2015, EPA Administrator McCarthy wrote an email to top EPA officials warning that the situation in Flint could “get very big quickly,” and “findings by university researchers and local doctors of high lead levels in the city’s water and in some children’s blood,” and still the EPA did nothing until January 2016. In other words, Rep. Chaffetz couldn’t have been pleased with Ms. McCarthy even before Thursday’s hearings.

Chaffetz began the hearings by calling the Del Toral memos “one of the more troubling things.”

It’s one of the more offensive, concerning things I’ve seen, that there were people = more than one that were making decisions and thinking, well maybe Flint isn’t who we should go out on a limb for.

But, the real fireworks began when it was Chairman Chaffetz’s turn to ask questions. The Utah congressman noted that, while the state has accepted responsibility and fired or suspended Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) employees involved in the Flint water crisis, the EPA fired no one and even called Susan Hedman’s resignation “courageous.”

McCarthy began to obfuscate by refusing to take any responsibility, giving what Chaffetz called a “cheap” response. The EPA head wouldn’t admit any wrongdoing, saying, “I don’t know if we did everything right. That’s the challenge that I’m facing. “I would have hoped we would have been more aggressive,” she added while claiming that she couldn’t act earlier because she didn’t have the information (despite Mr. Del Toral’s warnings).

Every time she tried to give an excuse, Chaffetz cut her off. And each time he cut her off it, seemed as if his temper was increasing.  Chaffetz snapped at her at one point, “You failed” Cutting off another McCarthy response, he added, “Don’t look around like you’re mystified! That’s what happened, Miguel Del Toral showed up in February, you didn’t take action, you didn’t.”

Chaffetz finished his time by chastising McCarthy as his voice got louder:

You want to do the courageous thing, like you said Susan Hedman did? Then you too should resign! Nobody’s going to believe that you had the opportunity, you had the presence, you had the authority. You had the backing of the federal government, and you did not act when you had the chance. And if you’re going to do the courageous thing you, too, should step down.

The full five minutes of Jason Chaffetz’s questioning is on the video below.

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