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Second round of Flint water hearings on Capitol Hill this week; Snyder, Earley to testify

Gov. Snyder speaks at a Flint news conference.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Some high-level decision-makers behind the Flint water crisis will answer to Congress this week.

The House Oversight and Government Reform committee has hearings scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday.

Ex-Flint mayor Dayne Walling and former emergency manager Darnell Earley will testify Tuesday.

Earley was in charge in 2014, when Flint actually switched from using Detroit-supplied water to pumping water from the Flint River.

Earley, who stepped down as emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools Feb. 29, had declined to appear at a previous hearing, saying he wasn’t given enough notice.

That prompted committee chair Jason Chaffetz to call U.S. Marshals to “hunt down” Earleyand compel his testimony.

Earley “wants to tell his story,” says his attorney, A. Scott Bolden.

Bolden says Earley “was following his fiscal duty and a plan that was set in place in 2013” by Flint’s previous emergency manager, Ed Kurtz.

With state and federal environmental agencies “beefing internally” over treatment requirements for Flint River water, Bolden says no one raised any red flags about the plan.

“There was nothing to suggest that there was anything wrong with using the Flint River,” he said. “There was nothing that was put in front of (Earley) that suggested that there was a problem with this plan.”

Gov. Snyder will testify at the Thursday hearing, alongside current EPA head Gina McCarthy.

Snyder will testify under oath. Spokesman Ari Adler says the governor expects a “long, grueling day” of questioning.

“And they will have plenty of tough questions. But the governor has been preparing for this, because he has been answering questions for the people of Flint all along,” Adler said.

Adler maintains that while Snyder knew there were problems with Flint’s water after the switch, he wasn’t aware of anything that amounted to “a serious public health issue” until last fall — when independent researchers proved that improperly-treated river water was corroding pipes, leading to lead contamination.

Emails show several of Snyder’s top aides knew about a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Genesee County, and a possible connection to the city’s water supply, in early 2015, but for some reason failed to inform the governor, who says he didn't find out until January 2016.

Now, Snyder is “demanding more answers, and he is not letting people not inform him,” Adler said. “He is very invested in fixing this. He is not going to walk away from this problem.”

Snyder has hired outside civil and criminal defense attorneys to represent him in legal investigations stemming from the Flint water crisis.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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