Administrator tells Michigan officials that federal response to water crisis was inadequate.
The Great Lakes regional official who handled the Flint, Mich., water crisis for the Environmental Protection Agency tendered her resignation, the agency confirmed.
Regional Administrator Susan Hedman offered to resign by Feb. 1. Recent emails have shown that Hedman was aware of the bankrupt city’s lead-contaminated water early last year but deferred to state and local authorities.
“Susan’s strong interest is ensuring that EPA Region 5’s focus remains solely on the restoration of Flint’s drinking water,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in accepting the resignation.
McCarthy also spoke and sent a letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder highlighting recommendations for next steps in addressing the health and water supply crisis and warning of “inadequate transparency and accountability in regard to test results” under the operative Safe Drinking Water Act Emergency Order. The letter was copied to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.
“EPA has determined the State of Michigan and the City of Flint’s responses to the drinking water crisis in Flint have been inadequate to protect public health,” an EPA statement said. “There are serious, ongoing concerns with delays, lack of adequate transparency, and capacity to safely manage the drinking water system.” The agency will monitor the testing and publish results on its website “to provide the public with better, more reliable information on ongoing efforts to abate the public health emergency.”
Both the governor and mayor committed to prompt action.
McCarthy also committed to improving enforcement of the agency’s Lead and Copper Rule for water safety and is “actively considering revisions” after EPA staff in Michigan met with local stakeholders this week, her statement said.
In a memo to all staff, she instituted “a formal policy, effective immediately, on elevation of critical public health issues. It includes specific parameters for staff to elevate critical public health and/or environmental issues so that the agency can properly assess them and respond at appropriate policy and governmental levels.”
McCarthy also asked the EPA inspector general to conduct a program evaluation of the Great Lakes Region’s public water supervision program under the Safe Drinking Act. That office agreed.
Meanwhile, an array of other agencies have swept into action to contain the Flint crisis. The Health and Human Services Department is now the lead agency coordinating responses to supply bottled water and otherwise help residents address the health effects of the poisoned water. HHS is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in mobilizing assistance from the Small Business Administration and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education and Agriculture.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, on Friday welcomed the resignation of EPA’s local manager. “EPA is rife with incompetence and Region 5 is no exception,” he said. “Mismanagement has plagued the region for far too long and Ms. Hedman's resignation is way overdue. The lack of accountability throughout the EPA has allowed problems to fester and crises to explode. One resignation will not change the top to bottom scrubbing EPA needs, but it is a step in the right direction.”