'Part 1984. Part Enemy of the People': Flint Residents Share Outrage on Capitol Hill

Flint resident Gladyes Williamson-Bunnell holds up a sample of water that came from her home during a town hall on Wednesday January 21, 2015. (Photo: Ryan Garza/ Detroit Free Press)

'Part 1984. Part Enemy of the People': Flint Residents Share Outrage on Capitol Hill

As affected families pack halls and overflow rooms in Congress, people want to know why Governor Snyder is hiding

The people of Flint on Wednesday carried their outrage and heartbreak from Michigan to Washington, D.C., where they described to a congressional panel how the officials charged with protecting their families were responsible for turning their homes into a toxic "ground zero."

The situation in Flint is "surreal. It's part 1984. It's part Enemy of the People," Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards told the U.S. House Oversight Committee. Edwards, who helped expose the lead-tainted water crisis, explained how state and federal agencies blatantly disregarded science and ultimately failed to protect the children in that community, and elsewhere.

In the first such congressional hearing on the Flint crisis, the committee has been charged with investigating the events leading up to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's late-January decision to issue an emergency order.

LeAnne Walters, a Flint mother whose lead-tainted water was the first tested by outside researchers, described her home as "ground zero" in the crisis. Walters said that the "city and the [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] still told everyone the water was safe as the EPA sat by in silence," calling it the "ultimate betrayal of citizens."

"This is not a Flint problem or a rare anomaly," she added, "it is a national problem." According to her research, only 10 states accurately test water for lead.

Interspersed amid personal testimony from affected citizens, who lined the halls and packed an overflow room, state and federal officials were grilled about the heightened lead levels in the city's water supply--and when they knew it.

The Detroit Free Press, which is live-blogging the hearing, reports:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's emergency order last month took over water sampling, accusing the state of Michigan of delays and a lack of transparency.

But the state Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) -- which has taken the brunt of the blame for not requiring Flint to have corrosion control which could have kept lead from leaching from old service pipes -- has pointed a finger of blame back at EPA as well, saying the agency kept the state waiting months for a legal opinion about whether such corrosion control was required.

At one point, Edwards said that before multiple agencies turned their back on the damning evidence, the crisis "probably started innocently... and someone simply forgot to follow the law" by failing to add phosphates to the new water source, which caused the toxic corrosion.

Outside of the finger-pointing, much of the blame for the crisis and cover-up has been leveled at Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the state's Emergency Manager law. During the hearing, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said he never liked the law because "it takes power away from the people in the community."

"Political philosophy matters, political choices have consequences and Flint is the most dramatic in our generation."
--Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)

"This crisis," charged Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), "is the consequence of putting ideology ahead of human beings and their needs and their welfare."

"Political philosophy matters, political choices have consequences and Flint is the most dramatic in our generation," he continued.

Connolly said that he lays this crisis "at the doorstep of those who share that philosophy," adding that he wants "to see the governor at this table."

Neither Snyder nor Darnell Earley, who served as Flint emergency manager from September 2013 until January 2015, were present at the hearing on Wednesday--a fact that many seized on as an attempt to evade accountability.

The committee said Tuesday that they had voted to subpoena Earley--who notably resigned that same day from his position as emergency manager of the embattled Detroit Public School system--but said he had "refused service."

Committee member Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) declared at the start of Wednesday's hearing that he will direct U.S. Marshals to find Earley and "hunt him down" if necessary.

Updates on the hearing are being shared online under the hashtag #FlintWaterCrisis while ongoing deliberations can be watched live here.

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