The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating the ongoing Flint, Michigan, water crisis cast doubt on Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) recent testimony.
Snyder, at a contentious March 17 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, testified that he was working with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) and Washington lawmakers “to deliver the assistance our citizens deserve.” According to an April 7 letter written by committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), however, Snyder had failed to provide Weaver with his 75-point plan to address the crisis until the evening after the hearing.
Snyder also excluded Weaver from meetings with state officials who developed the plan ahead of the committee hearing, based on new documents in Cummings’ possession.
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“Your actions raise grave concerns about the accuracy of your testimony,” Cummings wrote in the nine-page letter to the governor. He called on Snyder to “produce all emails, communications, and other documents relating to how you and your staff planned, developed, and released” the plan, and internal discussions about involving Weaver in the process.
An estimated 8,000 children 6 years and younger may have been exposed to the contaminated Flint water, according to a January New York Times report.
Cummings said he would take Snyder up on his recent offer to meet in Michigan—if they could also meet with Weaver, Flint City Council President Kerry Nelson, and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents Flint.
Cummings went on to criticize Snyder’s plan for falling short in addressing the widespread infrastructure problems that enabled the crisis. Weaver’s $55 million Fast Start program, which aims to replace all of Flint’s estimated 15,000 lead lines, calls on Snyder to wrangle an initial $25 million for the first phase of the program. Snyder’s plan proposes to replace 30 of the lines through Fast Start. The Republican governor’s plan does not specify funding amounts.
Chloride-heavy Flint River water corroded the city’s aging lead pipes after Snyder-appointed emergency managers, in an intended cost-saving move, switched the water source from Lake Huron to the river in April 2014. Families immediately saw signs of lead poisoning, such as hair loss, rashes, and cognitive impairments in children, but city and state officials downplayed the extent of the problem for more than a year.
Some 100,000 residents in Flint, a predominantly Black city, are still being forced to drink, cook with, and bathe their children in bottled water. The Snyder-appointed Flint Water Advisory Task Force’s final report, released March 21, found that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality “bears primary responsibility for the water contamination in Flint” and that its Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance “suffers from cultural shortcomings that prevent it from adequately serving and protecting the public health of Michigan residents.”
Cummings in his letter criticized Snyder for failing to refund payments for poisoned water. The representative also called on Snyder to reverse staffing cuts at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.
A Snyder spokesperson dismissed Cummings’ allegations, adding that the administration is in “near daily contact” with Weaver and her key staff members, according to news reports. “We received the letter almost simultaneously with the media, which hints at political finger-pointing rather than real problem solving,” the spokesperson said.
Two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees next week will hold a joint hearing on the effects of and lessons learned from the Flint water crisis.