Congressman Dan Kildee Testimony Before U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on Flint Water Crisis
February 3, 2016
WASHINGTON – Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) today testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the ongoing Flint water crisis. A full transcript of his remarks, as delivered, is below:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding these hearings and for allowing me to make some comments on what is happening in my hometown. To the ranking member, Mr. Cummings, thank you for your support, your guidance, and your allegiance to the people of the city of Flint. To my colleague, Congresswoman [Brenda] Lawrence, with whom I’ve worked on this from the very beginning, I just want to say thanks for having my back and the back of the people of the city of Flint. I will try to be brief – I know we have the real heroes of this story, some of them on the panel that I am anxious to listen to.
“Flint is my hometown, I grew up in Flint. I raised my children in Flint. When we leave here at the end of every week, I fly home to Flint. I am a son of this town. So it breaks my heart to see what is happening. It breaks my heart not just because of what has been inflicted upon the people of Flint, but because it was an entirely avoidable set of circumstances. Better action by people in government could have protected the people of Flint, and those players failed.
“I appreciate the outrage that Members of Congress – my colleagues – have expressed; and that outraged has come from both sides of the aisle. My hope is that this outrage translates into something more than just sharing the misery of the people of Flint. Or sympathy for the people of Flint. We need to provide help for the folks in Flint.
“Flint is a strong community. We have been through really tough times. And we will get through this too. But we have to have resources from the people who did this to Flint in order to create a path forward, especially for the children in my hometown. Right now, the water is still not yet safe to drink in Flint. High levels of lead continue to show up in testing.
“The reason I’m here, the reason I wanted to make some comments, is that I want to make sure as this committee pursues its responsibility, that we focus on the facts of this case and make sure that those guide the conclusions that we make.
“It was mentioned that in Flint, we have had an emergency manager; that is not just a small anecdote here. Emergency managers in Michigan have absolute authority over local governments.
“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. So when referring to local decisions, there are some who are trying to obfuscate responsibility for this crisis by saying they were local decisions. They were local decision made by a state emergency manager. 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.
“Making matters worse, the reason an emergency manager was required in Flint in the first place is largely because, obviously because big factors over time, the loss of our manufacturing base, but at the same time, the state of Michigan cut an essential element of city resources. It cut the money that goes to support cities from its budget. The city has a $50 million general fund, and over the last decade, $50 million of direct revenue sharing from the state to the city was eliminated, throwing the city into a financial crisis, precipitating the appointment, by the state, of an emergency manager to take over the city. The state that helped bankrupt the city is now sent in to try to take over to get it right.
“It was the state emergency manager that made the decision to switch the city of Flint to the Flint River water source. And it was the emergency manager who had 100 percent control of all departments of city government, including the department responsible for making sure the water was properly treated. And that emergency manager failed.
“Let me just showed you one exhibit, just so you have an understanding. These are facts. This is the order by the emergency manager to switch to the Flint River. Again, there is public relations campaign that is under way right now to try to say these were local decisions or no, it was actually the EPA, to deflect responsibility from the state of Michigan. This was a decision by an emergency manager in Flint to go to the Flint River water source. It is a critical decision that was made that precipitated this entire crisis.
“So after that switch was made, citizens began to speak up. In fact, one of them, LeeAnne Walters, is here and will be on the next panel. She’s one of the heroes of this story. Let me be clear: the heroes in the story of Flint are the ones who brought it to light, and they are not public officials. They are citizens, they are activists, they are people who would not be quiet. LeAnne Walters is one of them, and you will hear from her. She went to the DEQ, ultimately had to go to the EPA, as the chairman had indicated, to raise this question.
“And what was the response of the Michigan Department Environmental Quality when these issues were raised? To try to quiet all the voices that were calling this problem to their attention. Whether it was Dr. Mark Edwards from Virginia Tech, who you will hear from. The state of Michigan tried to discredit his research, a guy who has spent really his career on clean water. Tried to discredit the citizens, as if they were just unhappy citizens. They had lead in their water that was going to their children.
“Again, there’s an effort to try and create some false equivalency of responsibility. I’m critical of the EPA in this case, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I have legislation that I am introducing that hopefully will be bipartisan and taken up soon, that would create more much greater transparency by the EPA. I wish that as soon as the EPA discovered that there were problems with the water in Flint that they would have shouted from the mountain tops that there was a problem in Flint. Instead, they kept insisting that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality do its job, which it failed to do.
“One of the questions that has come up is why didn’t the EPA insist that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requiring the corrosion control be used in Flint. Well, there’s a document that I have in my hand, which I am submitting to you. It’s a memo from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to the EPA, dated February 27, 2015, almost a year ago, indicating that Flint has an optimized corrosion control program. They did not.
“So to hold the EPA accountable – I want to hold them accountable for transparency. But let’s get the facts right. It was the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality telling the EPA that they have this thing under control. That they were using corrosion control in Flint, when they were not.
“I would have preferred the EPA had let me know, and had let the community know that they had this data, and let us force the DEQ to do its job. They didn’t, and that is their failure. But it is not their failure to not insist that the corrosion control process be implemented. They continued to ask, and they were told it was under control when it was not.
“So when this all became public, another one of the heroes of this story, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, she is a pediatrician in Flint. She began to look at blood levels in children. And it showed elevated blood lead levels in children in Flint. She released her data and what was the response of the State of Michigan? To try to discredit this pediatrician, who has devoted her entire life to the health of children, just trying to do her job for the kids of Flint.
“There was a continuous effort to try to minimize this problem as if it did not exist. There are a lot of questions about who knew what and when, and that is really an important part of this. We have an email from the chief of staff in the governor’s office, back in July of 2015, raising this question and saying that he thought that basically the people of Flint were getting ‘blown off’ by the state. So they knew about this back then and failed to act.
“Let me just conclude by saying a couple of things. I’m really concerned that we get to the facts on this. Not just because I want to know who should be fired, who should be subpoenaed, who should be blamed, and who should be prosecuted. Justice comes in those forms for sure. But justice for the people of Flint comes by making it right for the people of Flint, and the only way we can make it right is to make sure we know who did this. For anybody who has been paying attention to this case, back home in Michigan, there is really no doubt about who is responsible.
“The State of Michigan was responsible, as the ranking member said, has primacy for the enforcement of the lead and copper rule. The State of Michigan was running the city of Flint itself at the time that these decisions were made. And the state of Michigan denied to the citizens of the state and to the citizens of Flint that this was a problem. At one point, a state official, after the lead data had already been made known to them, told people in Flint that they should just ‘relax’. 9,000 children in Flint, with water with elevated lead levels going into their bodies, relax? Yes, this is a failure of government. But this false equivalency that somehow local officials – who had no power – and the EPA who I agree should have done more, should be held accountable for this, misses the point. This was a state failure.
“You’ll hear from folks today, and the current head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, whom I know is a good man, he was not in the position at the time these decisions were made and can’t really testify to what happened then in real time. We were there. LeAnne Walters was there. Mark Edwards was there. Dr. Mona was there. The people of Flint knew what was happening.
“So, the state, to my point of view, my perspective, has a moral responsibility – not to just apologize. The governor has already apologized; in his State of the State, he said he acknowledged responsibility. But the way I was raised, is that when you do something wrong to someone, something that has consequence, you do apologize, for sure. But also if you have it in your power to make it right for that person, to make it right for those people, you have to stand up and do that. So far, we haven’t seen that.
“We need the pipes fixed in Flint. In fact, the Governor should write a check tomorrow for the $60 million that the mayor of Flint has asked for to replace the lead service lines. He’s sitting on a billion dollar surplus. He should ask for that money tomorrow. And then should commit to not just fix the infrastructure, but to make it right for these kids. Give them the kind of help that any child with a developmental hurdle to overcome should get: early childhood education, good nutrition, lots of support, behavioral support, not just now, not just next year – but for the entire trajectory of their developmental cycle.
“This is a tragedy. It cannot be fixed, but those who did this to Flint can stand up and make it right, and I would ask this committee to do everything within your power to find the facts, and if you do, and if you let those facts lead you to the conclusion that they should, we will find that the state of Michigan bears the responsibility to the greatest extent. And they should be held to account, but they should also be held to make it right.
“With that Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to speak, and I yield back. Thank you.”
A video of Congressman Kildee’s testimony can be viewed here: