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Former Flint Emergency Manager To Testify Before Congress On Water Crisis


This week, a congressional panel will take top state and federal officials to task for the lead that has contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich. Among those scheduled to be in the hot seat? The head of the EPA and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Here's a preview from Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz was in Flint this weekend to get a firsthand view of the water situation there. Residents are still using bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing months after the state acknowledged the lead contamination. Chaffetz says he wants to know how the lead contamination occurred, why it wasn't caught sooner, and what's being done to fix it.

JASON CHAFFETZ: I want truth, I want to understand how we got here, and I want to see what the game plan is going forward.

PLUTA: Chaffetz stopped by a charter school, where people were again dropping off water samples to be tested for lead and picking up bottled water. He and other members of Congress also toured the city's water treatment plant as they prepared for two days of hearings this week before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Chaffetz chairs.

CHAFFETZ: I still don't think the final chapter has been written on where the breakdown was. We've got to hold some people accountable, too.

PLUTA: Accountability is also what Melissa Mays wants. She's a mother of three in Flint and has been protesting since the city switched water supplies in April of 2014, while Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. Former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley will be part of the first hearing tomorrow. Mays will also pay particular attention on Thursday, when it's Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's turn to appear.

MELISSA MAYS: Here we sit, you know, choking in our showers and, you know, trying to still survive off of bottled water, and it's just not sustainable or feasible. He's not living like this. Why is it OK that we are?

PLUTA: Mays and others say they want to know why it's taking so long to replace old lead water lines scattered throughout the city. She wants to know why complaints about the smell and color of the drinking water were ignored. When did top state officials really know about a fatal outbreak of Legionnaire's disease that could be linked to the water troubles? And she has questions about what's going to be done to help her kids deal with any possible learning disabilities, neurological problems or other potential long-term effects of lead contamination. Ari Adler is Snyder's communications director and says the Republican governor is looking forward to the chance to explain his side of things.

ARI ADLER: The governor will be fully prepared to talk about the situation in Flint, what we are doing to address that crisis, and how we are looking to move Flint forward with taking care of infrastructure, education, economic and health care needs well into the future.

PLUTA: Snyder's faced repeated calls to resign over his handling of the water crisis. He's also retained a criminal defense team at taxpayer expense. Adler says Snyder understands the questioning this week will be intense, especially when it's Democrats conducting the interrogation.

ADLER: It can be an uncomfortable seat to be in, but the governor is going to be ready.

PLUTA: Chaffetz, the Republican committee chair, says he's more interested in failures at the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy will be sitting alongside Snyder at the second hearing on Thursday. Chaffetz warns she's likely to face some tough questions, too.

CHAFFETZ: The governor, from my vantage point, has been very open and helpful to us. The EPA? Not so much.

PLUTA: Regardless of any partisan tilt to the questioning, Chaffetz says he wants to know why EPA officials appear to know there were problems with Flint's water many months before it was publicly disclosed. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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