US lawmakers on Thursday called for the resignations of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy for their failure in swiftly addressing the contaminated drinking water crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan.
Snyder, a Republican, and McCarthy, a presidential appointee, sat side by side before the House Oversight Committee as lawmakers from both parties grilled them on their response to the crisis, which has turned into a full-blown health emergency. It also has led to several lawsuits in state and federal courts, and federal and state investigations.
Republicans on the committee pinned much of the blame on the EPA, which many party members want to eliminate because they feel it is too powerful. Democrats pointed fingers at Snyder and Michigan officials, suggesting that cost cutting came at the expense of public health.
Several Republicans called on McCarthy to resign, but the White House said it had full confidence in her.
The committee's top Democrat, Maryland's Elijah Cummings, and other Democrats said Snyder's administration was to blame for the mishandling of the crisis and called on the governor to resign.
Members of the committee chastised McCarthy and Snyder. "You don’t get it, You still don’t get it. You just don’t get it," Committee chair Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, told McCarthy as he criticised her failure to accept blame for the crisis.
Snyder did not escape unscathed, "There is no doubt in my mind that if a corporate CEO did what Governor Snyder’s administration has done, he would be hauled up on criminal charges," Cummings said in his opening remarks. "The board of directors would throw him out. And the shareholders would revolt."
Snyder said the state has started the process of replacing the corroded pipes and has set aside tens of millions of dollars to help the recovery of Flint citizens injured or harmed by lead poisoning.
Snyder has said he has no plans to resign, despite efforts in his state and nationally to recall him. US President Barack Obama has said he supports McCarthy and the EPA despite calls for her resignation.
Chaffetz said he would continue to investigate the cause of the Flint crisis and the response to it but that no other hearings are scheduled at present.
Under the direction of a state-appointed emergency manager, Flint, a mostly African-American city of 100,000 northwest of Detroit, switched water supplies to the Flint River from Detroit's water system in 2014 to save money.
The corrosive river water leached lead from the city's water pipes. Lead is toxic and can damage the nervous system. Blood samples taken from children in Flint contained high levels of lead.
The city switched back to the Detroit system last October.
Over 200 residents from Flint traveled by bus to Washington to attend Thursday's hearing, including 10-year-old Jaylon Terry, who fidgeted in his chair in the committee room.
"I've been getting constant calls every day from his teachers," said his mother, Lewenna Terry, who said the lead in his system has affected Jaylon's attention span and grades. "The teachers have noticed it's not just my son but other kids. The whole city has been poisoned."