Following a heated oversight hearing in the House on the Flint water crisis, what are the next steps for U.S. EPA officials and top-ranking members of the Michigan government? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter Tiffany Stecker discusses the fallout from this week's contentious House hearing and the future of a federal aid package in the Senate.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Heated hearings this week in the House Oversight Committee as the governor of Michigan and EPA's administrator testified on the Flint water crisis. E&E Daily's Tiffany Stecker has been following all the details, and she's here with the latest. Tiffany, there was a lot of finger pointing this week among top officials. Emails were released that shed some light on who knew what and when. What do we know now from those emails?
Tiffany Stecker: So, I think overall, the emails -- one thing that really struck me was you could really see the relationship between EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. There was -- it seemed like EPA was kind of tiptoeing around the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, MDEQ. You see emails like a staffer in Region 5, which is the Chicago-based headquarters of that region for the Great Lakes, saying things like, "Oh, you know, MDEQ might get defensive if we issue a violation to them. Maybe we should work with them instead of actually going in and saying, 'You're doing something wrong.' You know, slapping their wrist. Or doing something more serious."
Another interesting thing that came out of the emails was the understanding of when Gina McCarthy knew certain things. It really seemed like things were kind of dripping through, like little pieces of information were coming through throughout the year, while this Flint crisis was happening. In September, it seems there was really a turning point where Gina McCarthy said, "OK, this is going to be big, this is important." But in that point, instead of saying, "We need to go in," she said the govern -- the Michigan department needs to step up. So really, it seems like EPA was really looking at Michigan to step up to do the work and it wasn't until later that they said, "OK, we need to step in here."
Monica Trauzzi: And there are calls for EPA Administrator McCarthy to resign. Is that largely political or do you think it has teeth?
Tiffany Stecker: Well, you know the chairman of the Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz, made it very clear he wanted Gina McCarthy to resign. There were other lawmakers yesterday, Republicans, that called for a resignation. These are Republicans, of course, who don't like EPA, period. Who don't like Gina McCarthy, period. So, I think it was really part of that anti-EPA feeling. At this point, Gina McCarthy has been very vehemently saying that EPA didn't do anything wrong. They should have known something at the time, but they didn't do anything wrong, given the information they had at the time. So that doesn't sound like someone who's ready to resign.
Monica Trauzzi What are the next steps from the House?
Tiffany Stecker: So, after the hearing yesterday, Jason Chaffetz said that he would probably focus on the lead and copper rule. This is a regulation, it's about 25 years old, that regulates how much lead can be in the public drinking water system. He -- in Flint, the lead and copper rule was violated. But the MDEQ was able to sort of use loopholes in the rule to technically follow the rule, but not really -- but still continue to contaminate the water with lead, through not using corrosion control. So, I really think that's going to be an area where the House tries to tighten the regulations.
Monica Trauzzi And over on the Senate side, where do things stand on their aid package?
Tiffany Stecker: So, they're still working. There's a hold now from Sen. Mike Lee on the package. This is a $220 million package for Flint to replace some of the lead pipes, to help with some of the health services that some of the residents are going to need that have been -- who have been poisoned by lead. Up until a week ago, the senators from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, were still saying there was progress and that there was -- they were able to -- you know, they were hopeful that this hold would be lifted. To this point, it seems like it's been stalled. So I think senators are still hopeful that it might go through, but they're looking at other options at this point.
Monica Trauzzi Thanks, Tiffany. Wonderful reporting on this issue.
Tiffany Stecker: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi Thanks for coming on the show. The Cutting Edge will be on break next week. We'll return Friday, April 1st. We'll see you then.
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