The U.S. House Oversight Committee hosted a hearing on the Flint water crisis Wednesday, hearing testimony and questioning several individuals involved in the crisis.

The water in Flint has been contaminated with lead since April 2014 following a switch from Detroit city water to Flint River water — a decision made by the city’s emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in September 2013 in response to the city’s financial troubles.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D–Flint); Joel Beauvais, acting deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; Marc Edwards, professor of environmental and water engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute; and Flint resident LeeAnne Walters all testified before the committee. 

Darnell Earley, previous Flint emergency manager, stepped down from his position as Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Tuesday, one day before he was required to testify before the U.S. House Oversight Committee. Earley was not present at the hearing.

The committee exists purely as an investigatory body to reveal information to the public and it will only be able to call forth witnesses and make suggestions to Congress.

Peter Jacobson, professor of health law and policy, said he hopes Congress follow only recommendations set forth to help the people of Flint deal with the aftermath of the crisis.

“It’s Congress that needs to take action,” he said. “The purpose of the oversight committee is to hold public officials accountable.”

In his remarks, Kildee said he thinks it is important to recognize that the major decisions that led to the water crisis were made by Earley and not the local government officials.

“So when we talk about failure of government at every level, let’s just be clear about one point — one very important point: Every decision that was made for the city of Flint that relates to this crisis was made by a state-appointed emergency manager,” he said. “The mayor of the city has no authority; the city council in Flint had zero authority to make any decisions. That is an important point.”

According to Jacobson, because of Michigan’s Public Act 72 — often referred to as the emergency manager law — Earley is unlikely to face legal consequences for his actions as the law provides virtual legal immunity for any actions taken by an emergency manager.

During the hearing, Kildee also submitted a memo from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality which indicated they had misinformed the Environmental Protection Agency regarding their use of an optimized corrosion control plan. This information could have had the potential to keep lead out of the water for an estimated $80 to $100 per day, according to the memo.

Walters said the MDEQ misinformed the EPA due to alleged misinterpretation of the law, causing residents to think the water was safe for many months when it was not.

“The MDEQ claimed they misinterpreted federal law regarding corrosion control,” she said. “They were allowed to tell EPA that they were following the law. Citizens in Flint were told for 18 months that the water was safe.”

Snyder was not among those called to testify before the committee. Jacobson said this was part of a partisan bias, in which Congressional Republicans — who have the majority in both chambers— want to avoid harming a prominent Republican governor by shielding him from any tough questions he would face in the hearing.

“The majority party rarely wants to expose wrongdoing among its own party members,” he said. “My guess is Snyder is not being called because they do not want to expose him to the questions from the minority members.”

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cumming (D–Md.), one of the committee members, said he requested the chair of the commission, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) ask Snyder to come and to have him submit documents, but was refused.

“Governor Snyder should have to answer for his decisions,” Cumming said during the hearing. “We asked the chairman to invite him today, but he would not. We asked the chairman to send the same kind of document request that we sent to the EPA, but he would not.”

Colleen Crossey, a political activist who co-organized a recent Ann Arbor protest calling for Snyder’s arrest, said in an interview that she would like to see Snyder face consequences and appear before the committee.

“Snyder should be held accountable because of his lack of oversight,” she said. “I want to see him held accountable and for him to go to Washington and answer the questions that he needs to answer.”

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