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Congressional inquiry faults Michigan officials and EPA for Flint water crisis

Congressional Republicans quietly closed a yearlong investigation into the crisis over lead in the Flint, Mich., drinking water supply, faulting both state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency for contamination that has affected nearly 100,000 residents.

In letters to fellow Republicans, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Friday that Michigan and federal officials were slow in detecting high levels of lead in the water and did not act fast enough once the problem was discovered.

The committee’s findings offer no new information and essentially summarize what emerged during several high-profile hearings earlier this year.

“The committee found significant problems at Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality and unacceptable delays in the Environmental Protection Agency's response to the crisis,” wrote Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “The committee also found that the federal regulatory framework is so outdated that it sets up states to fail.”

Flint's drinking water became tainted when the city switched from the Detroit water system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The impoverished city was under state control at the time.

Regulators failed to ensure the water was treated properly, and lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply.

After nearly a year of haggling, Congress approved legislation last week to provide $170 million to deal with the Flint crisis and help other communities with lead-tainted water.

In his letters to fellow GOP lawmakers, Chaffetz cited “a series of failures at all levels of government” that “caused and then exacerbated the water crisis.”

While the Republican chairman signaled the apparent conclusion of the inquiry — Congress ended its two-year session last week — the panel's senior Democrat insisted the investigation should continue and accused Michigan's Republican governor of stonewalling the committee over documents related to the crisis.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, senior Democrat on the oversight panel, said he wants Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to produce key Flint-related documents within 30 days. Cummings said Snyder and his administration have obstructed the committee's investigation into the Flint crisis for a year, refusing to provide — or even search for — key documents.

Snyder's intransigence has thwarted committee efforts to answer critical questions about what he knew as the crisis unfolded and why he didn't act sooner to fix it, Cummings said.

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