Yesterday’s Flint water crisis hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was an astonishing thing to watch. As the beleaguered city is still reeling from the poisoning of its drinking water and the death of at least nine people from Legionnaires’ Disease, one of the men chiefly responsible for the catastrophe declared said that he’s been “unjustly persecuted, vilified, and smeared – both personally and professionally – by the media, local, state, and federal officials, as well as by a misinformed public.”
Well, cry me a river, sir.
Despite the valiant attempts by Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz and his Republican colleagues to make this exclusively about the failures of the USEPA to intercede early in the process, Earley took a beating not just from Democrats on the Committee but by Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash, as well. Former EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman was rightfully taken to the woodshed during the hearing, but Earley took an equally tough beating.
Committee members pointed out the hypocrisy of Earley’s contention that it was local officials that were responsible for the switch to the Flint River for the city’s drinking water despite the fact that it was he and his predecessors who ultimately made the decision, Emergency Managers who wielded absolute control over the governments they replaced. He perpetuated the myth that everyone was on board with the exclusive use of the Flint River after the city left the Detroit water system and conveniently neglected to mention that he declined Detroit’s offer to stay on their system. He played the victim card repeatedly, saying he was simply following orders and executing decisions made by others. When pressed, he refused to apologize. When asked if he directed his attorney to refuse service of the subpoena to testify last month, he lawyered up, claiming that was a matter of client-attorney privilege.
Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards was particularly vicious in his attacks on Hedman and, when all was said and done, I came away thinking he should be appointed to a leadership position in the EPA that would allow him to enact necessary changes the organization to force it to do the job it is supposed to be doing: protecting people and the environment. While I agree that there are institutional problems at the EPA and despite the fact that Republicans giddily returned to him time and time again to malign the group, Prof. Edwards placed far more of the responsibility for the Flint debacle at their doorstep than he did at the doorstep of the Snyder administration, the failure of Gov. Snyder’s Department of Environmental Quality, and the role played by the anti-democracy policy of Emergency Management. Any mistakes made by the EPA or by local Flint officials are overshadowed by the colossal failure of the Snyder administration’s policies and actions. By the time the EPA had gotten involved, the lead horse had already left the tap.
At one point in the hearing, Hedman was asked about the EPA’s punishment of staffer Miguel Del Toral who was the chief government whistleblower on what was transpiring in Flint. Hedman definitively declared that there had been no retribution against Del Toral and, if it’s proven he was, indeed, punished for his whistleblowing, Hedman may well face a perjury charge. That said, when she was asked how the state government of Ohio responded to a water crisis of its own, Hedman showed the stark contrast in the response and cooperation the EPA received from the Kasich administration and that of the Snyder administration. It was like flip sides of the same coin.
On Thursday we’ll get to hear from Gov. Snyder who will testify under oath for the first time. It’s likely he’ll continue to throw his subordinates under the bus, point fingers at Flint officials, and continue to claim that, despite the fact that his closest advisors knew intimate details about the unfolding catastrophe, they kept him blissfully in the dark. This unbelievable position shows that he’s either a liar or an epically terrible manager. Or both. And it shows that Rick Snyder is over his head when it comes to running a state and has no business being governor.
As I said yesterday, Gov. Snyder and his administration want to take credit only for the so-called “successes” of his Emergency Managers while placing the blame for anything that goes wrong on everyone else. It’s corporatist Republican hypocrisy at its