WASHINGTON (CN) - An Environmental Protection Agency official ousted in the wake of Flint, Mich.'s leaded-water crisis urged Congress on Tuesday not to blame the federal agency.
"I don't think anyone at EPA did anything wrong, but I do believe we could have done more," said Susan Hedman, a onetime appointee of President Barack Obama.
In a crisis where there is plenty of blame to go around, Hedman served as administrator of EPA Region 5, a territory that includes Michigan, two years ago when Flint switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the corrosive Flint River.
Having tendered her resignation this past January, Hedman faced two hours of heated questioning this morning from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Proceedings got off to a rocky start when the committee chairman treated Hedman like a tardy student after she walked into the hearing several minutes late.
"Ms. Hedman is now here, we can go ahead and start," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said with noticeable annoyance.
Detailing the multiple failures that let Flint's poisoned-water crisis continue unchecked for 17 months, Chaffetz entered into the record an email suggesting that the EPA intentionally ignored Flint's problems.
"We've included information on Flint's financial practices as we think Susan needs to be aware," wrote Debbie Baltazar, chief of the State and Tribal Programs Branch of the EPA's Water Division.
"Perhaps she already knows this, but I'm not so sure Flint is the community we want to go out on a limb for," the letter continues, addressed to EPA Region Five employees Steve Marquardt and Tim Henry. "At least without a better understanding of where all the money went."
Loud groans rose from the packed hearing room as Chaffetz read the selection, with the email displayed on two large televisions in the room
"Oh no," someone in the audience said.
Meanwhile a group of Flint residents who traveled to Tuesday's hearing shook their heads repeatedly during the hearing, sometimes laughing incredulously. Carrying bottles filled with the tainted water, the group wore shirts that read "Flint Lives Matter."
With the committee Republicans seeking to rake the EPA over the coals for its handling of the water crisis, Hedman instead laid blame on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
By law, the EPA could not act until the state agency failed to do so, Hedman said.
"The bad news is that this problem should never have happened in the first place, and I need to remind you: EPA had nothing to do with that," Hedman said.
Hedman said she learned that the eastern Michigan factory town was not using the legally required corrosion-control treatment for its water supply on June 30, 2015 - over a year since Flint switched from the Detroit water system in April 2014 as a cost-cutting measure.
Though the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality took the EPA's advice in July 2015, directing Flint to implement corrosion control, Hedman said the "MDEQ was slow to deliver on the agreement."
Unlike the EPA's successful cooperation with state agencies to address the Toledo water crisis of 2014, Hedman said the federal government found itself hamstrung by the ineffective enforcement options of the Safe Drinking Water Act.