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Feb. 1 — The House Energy and Commerce Committee is continuing to gather and examine information about what caused lead levels to spike in the drinking water of Flint, Mich., but at this point has not decided whether to hold a hearing, a committee aide told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 1.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is responsible for overseeing Safe Drinking Water Act program implementation.
Upton, Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), John Shimkus (R-Illinois) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) were briefed by the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water on the unfolding crisis in Flint, where city residents are grappling with contaminated drinking water supplies.
“The people of Flint, Michigan, deserve answers. January’s bipartisan staff briefing was to learn more details about the Flint Water crisis, specifically—what the EPA knew and when, the relationships between EPA and the state, and EPA and the city. Vital questions still remain. Moving forward, Chairman Upton and the committee will continue to closely monitor the situation and request information from all pertinent federal agencies,” the aide said.
The state ordered the city in April 2014 to switch its water supplies to the nearby Flint River as a cost-saving measure. Upon doing so, officials did not ensure that corrosion controls were in place to prevent leaching of aged lead service lines. Elevated lead concentrations were discovered in the blood of children in a study done by the Hurley Medical Center in September 2015. The results of the study were released several months after residents and at least one EPA official had alerted the state about the spikes seen in lead in the city's drinking water supplies. Since then, Flint is no longer getting its water from the nearby river, and the head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and EPA's Region 5 Administrator have both stepped down. Both the state and the Justice Department are conducting their own investigations into whether the local, state or federal agencies knowingly and willfully allowed the contamination of Flint's water supplies to occur .
The Energy and Commerce Committee's Democrats did not respond to requests for comment about whether they supported Upton's data-gathering process prior to holding a hearing.
Regarding the briefing, the committee Democrats termed it “an important first step” in hearing from the EPA about how it is working with the state and local government agencies to ensure the people of Flint have access to safe drinking water.
“As the committee of jurisdiction over safe drinking water and public health, we believe it is critically important that the people of Flint have access to water that is safe to consume as soon as possible, and we are committed to working with EPA to ensure that happens,” an aide for the committee Democrats told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.
The committee also didn't elaborate whether it would hold a hearing on Capitol Hill or in Michigan, or both as was the case in early 2015 when Congress examined a chemical storage tank spill in West Virginia that released thousands of gallons into the Elk River, contaminating drinking water supplies in Charleston and nearby counties.
At that time, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held a hearing on Capitol Hill, while the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee conducted a field hearing on Feb. 10 in Charleston, W.Va., one month after the accidental release of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexne methanol.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), whose district includes Flint, said he was pleased that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has decided to hold a hearing on Feb. 3 to examine the EPA role, but was critical of the fact that the state's role in the water contamination crisis is not being considered.
“Flint deserves answers from the state on how this terrible water crisis happened and what is being done to make it right. I strongly support congressional hearings in order to find the facts, hold people accountable, and ensure that Flint families and children get the resources they need to deal with this crisis,” Kildee said in a Feb. 28 statement. He joined Democrats on the Oversight and Reform Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus in demanding that Gov. Richard Snyder (R) be required to testify .
“Governor Snyder and his administration’s policies led to this man-made crisis and he must testify so that the whole truth can be found,” Kildee said.By Amena H. Saiyid
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