Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will take some responsibility for the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water at a congressional hearing Thursday, saying, "We all failed the families of Flint."
Since declaring a state of emergency in January, Snyder has been open about accepting blame for his role in the lead water crisis that has left the city of 100,000 unable to drink their water. He also has pointed to local and federal officials who he believes share responsibility for the crisis.
In prepared remarks released Wednesday, Snyder will repeat those points in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in a hearing that starts at 9 a.m. Thursday, while also talking about his own regrets.
"Not a day or night goes by that this tragedy doesn't weigh on my mind … the questions I should have asked, the answers I should have demanded, how I could have prevented this," Snyder will say, according to released testimony. "That's why I am so committed to delivering permanent, long-term solutions and the clean, safe drinking water that every Michigan citizen deserves."
The committee is investigating the crisis in Flint that began in April 2014, when a state emergency manager appointed by Snyder signed off on a symbolic vote from the Flint City Council to change the city's water source. The move aimed to cut costs by requiring the city to take its water from the Flint River instead of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department while a new pipeline was built to connect the city to Lake Huron.
The Flint River water, however, was so acidic that it caused the lead pipes bringing water from the city's cast iron mains into homes to corrode. Lead leached off the pipes and into the drinking water throughout the city.
The state and the federal government have declared a state of emergency, and Flint residents are not able to drink the water coming out of their taps.
Snyder will detail the actions taken by the state to deal with the crisis including switching the water back to the Detroit system, distributing water filters, ordering more blood testing and sending $67 million to the city for short- and long-term needs.
"Our focus, and our priority, is on both short-term health and long-term safety," Snyder will say, according to the testimony. "This includes diagnostic testing, nurse visits and environmental assessments in the home to treat any children with high lead levels."
Snyder will be testifying at the same time as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. The EPA has been criticized for not following up on the warnings of Miguel Del Toral, an agency researcher who worked in Flint and discovered abnormally high lead levels in water as early as February 2015.
Snyder will say that he's glad to be with McCarthy at the witness table and that he blames the EPA for ignoring Del Toral's warnings on what was happening in Flint. Snyder also will criticize the federal lead and copper rule, which is meant to set the danger levels for those metals in drinking water but has not been updated in years.
"The truth is, there are many communities with potentially dangerous lead problems. And if the [state Department of Environmental Quality] and EPA do not change, and if the dumb and dangerous federal lead and copper rule is not changed, then this tragedy will befall other American cities," Snyder will say.
It's expected that Snyder and McCarthy will have an unpleasant day testifying in front of Congress.
Democrats on the oversight committee have pointed the finger at Snyder as the main cause of the crisis because his emergency manager was the one who made the decision to switch to the Flint River as a water source. Republicans have targeted the EPA for failing to do proper oversight of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and have added Flint to a list of grievances they have against the agency.
Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is expected to say he's not sure why the EPA exists if it's not going to stop situations such as Flint's water crisis. He is expected to say the committee needs to know who knew what and when.
"The buck stops with our two witnesses here today. We need to understand how the system failed the residents of Flint so badly," Chaffetz will say, according to prepared remarks. "But more importantly, we need to understand what is being done to fix the problem and help the people of Flint recover from this tragedy."