WASHINGTON (CN) - After months of finger pointing in Michigan over Flint's lead-poisoned water, lawmakers took up the albatross Wednesday at the first congressional hearing on the crisis.
Calling it "horrendous," "outrageous," "a train wreck" and "a crime of epic proportions," lawmakers expressed frustration with local, state and federal responses as they tried to sort through the missteps that led to the crisis.
"The public has a right to be outraged. Outrage doesn't even begin to cover it," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, as the often-heated hearing got underway.
Notably absent from the hearing was Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and several of Michigan's emergency managers - the people the committee would have most liked to question. This emerged as a point of contention for some Democratic committee members, who said the governor in particular bears the brunt of the responsibility for the disaster.
They accused Chaffetz of refusing to require Snyder's attendance because he wanted to lay the blame at the foot of the Environmental Protection Agency for not taking action as soon as it became aware of the crisis.
"Gov. Snyder has admitted to missteps in his own administration," Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said in a Feb. 2 letter. "The lack of oversight and accountability at the state level requires full investigation, and a partisan hearing that aims to undercut the Environmental Protection Agency will not accurately reveal wrongdoings that occurred in Flint."
A group of 18 lawmakers then invoked their right under House rules to demand that Chaffetz summon Snyder, along with three emergency managers he appointed to oversee Flint since 2011, to testify before Congress in a separate hearing.
Chaffetz did note that Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, who was invited but refused to attend Wednesday's hearing, would be summoned to testify.
"We're calling on U.S. marshals to hunt him down," Chaffetz said, as Flint residents attending the hearing clapped and cheered.
Without Snyder to harangue, the committee pressed state and federal officials - who remain deeply divided over how much blame to take - over their handling of the crisis.
EPA assistant administrator Joel Beauvais called it "highly unusual" that Flint began relying on the untreated Flint River for its water supply, a cost-cutting move directed by the emergency manager Snyder appointed.
Beauvais said the next failure came from Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, the agency responsible for overseeing compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and the EPA's lead and copper rule.
This agency failed to ensure that the new water supply was treated to prevent corrosion, and it misled the EPA in the process, Beauvais said.
Reiterating state responsibility, the city of Flint was required to obtain approval for the water supply switch from the Department of Environmental Quality, which "incorrectly advised the city of Flint that corrosion-control treatment was not necessary, resulting in leeching of lead into the city's drinking water," Beauvais said.
"EPA regional staff urged MDEQ to address the lack of corrosion control, but was met with resistance," Beauvais said, abbreviating the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., placed the blame squarely on former Michigan state emergency manager Edward Kurtz.