FLINT, Mich. — For two years, the simple act of having a glass of water has been fraught with danger in Flint, Michigan.
On Wednesday, policymakers 500 miles away started delving into why that’s the sad truth, who is to blame and what can be done about it.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform focused on Flint’s water crisis, one that has been seen largely as a local and state issue though the federal government certainly has played a role.
The hearing’s stated purpose was generally “to examine the ongoing situation in Flint” and specifically “to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s” actions to date.
In his opening remarks, committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced several documents suggesting that EPA officials had not acted quickly enough in Flint in the face of numerous warnings, some of them from inside the agency.
But he didn’t reserve his critiques only for those in federal agencies. He also called out Darnell Earley, who was Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager between 2013 and 2015.
According to Chaffetz, Earley was invited last week to testify before the committee, but informed the panel on Monday night that he would not be coming to Washington. His lawyer then refused a subpoena issued Tuesday, according to Chaffetz, a Utah Republican.
“We’re calling on the U.S. Marshals to hunt (Earley) down and give him that subpoena,” Chaffetz said.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said that both the federal EPA and his state’s Department of Environmental Quality “missed” how the decision to switch the city’s water supply from Lake Huron (via Detroit’s water system) to the Flint River in April 2014 had gone dangerously wrong.
Officials initially brushed off complaints about dirty, foul-smelling tap water, assuring residents that the water was safe. It wasn’t until last September when authorities began to take the issue seriously, finally reversing the earlier decision by switching back to Lake Huron for the water supply.
But by then, in many ways, it was too late. Flint residents had already drunk tap water tainted with lead that, according to the Mayo Clinic, “can severely affect mental and physical development” in children and can even be fatal at high levels. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, while exposure to lead isn’t good for anyone, “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”