Flint Hearing Sparks Congressional Combustion

Flint Hearing Sparks Congressional Combustion

Yesterday marked a moment that many in Michigan and across the country were waiting for, a Congressional Hearing on the Flint water crisis where Governor Rick Snyder would face questions while under oath. It was so important that nearly 150 citizens and activists from Flint travelled 12 hours by bus to observe the hearings themselves. They wanted answers and an explanation from their Governor and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Gina McCarthy.

The best way to describe what went down at the hearing is to say that it was a House Divided. While Democratic Members sought to determine when Gov. Snyder knew about the situation and why he didn’t act faster, GOP members sought to place the blame on McCarthy and the EPA. Democrats called for the resignation of Snyder and Republicans for the resignation of McCarthy. Perhaps the most heated exchange came from Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) proclaimed that he was, “tired of hearing Snyder’s false contrition, and that plausible deniability only works when it’s plausible.”

Equally heated was the revelation by Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) that Gov. Snyder used $1M of the people of Michigan’s money to pay for his legal fees associated with a criminal investigation. Cummings concluded that Snyder could not be trusted and, therefore, needs to resign, which prompted Flint residents in the audience to applause.

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) for his part shifted the blame onto Administrator McCarthy, explaining that because she had the full backing of the federal government, the blame lays at her feet. After bashing the Administrator for nearly 10 minutes, he eventually called on her to resign.

For all of the back and forth and blame games, which fell basically along party lines, there was one issue missing from the conversation: environmental justice. The only committee member to use the term “environmental racism” during the entire hearing was Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL). This is important,because, as we now know, there are many other communities across the country that are also exposed to water tainted by lead — many of them frontline communities of color that are, as described by the Father of Environmental Justice Dr. Robert Bullard, “The Wrong Complexion for Protection.” The omission was so glaring that even mainstream media pundits like Mika Brzezinski from MSNBC asked why Flint is being treated differently from other communities that received swift action from the federal government when faced with similar crises.

She was referring to the fact that during the Love Canal crisis back in the 1970s when a coalition of activists led by the legendary Lois Gibbs complained of health impacts in their community, which was built on a “remediated” toxic waste site. In that case, President Jimmy Carter acted quickly to declare the community a disaster area, purchased homes and relocated 239 families. But Love Canal was a predominantly White, upper middle class community, and Flint is predominantly African American.

Meanwhile, the city has still not received emergency federal funds to replace corroded, tainted pipes as the Senate is deadlocked on an unrelated energy bill. The Senate just departed for a week long recess, meaning that the people of Flint will have to wait even longer before they receive even meager relief.

The hearings, to that end, accomplished nothing. Snyder will not resign, and likely will not be prosecuted; Administrator McCarthy will also retain her position. All that was accomplished was a public display of admonishment for all levels of government that failed and continues to fail Flint. Stay tuned for more information on this issue and how you can get involved to demand that the Senate and House of Representatives take immediate action to deliver justice to the people of Flint.