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Upton Kicks Off Debate on Bipartisan Legislative Response to Drinking Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan

Feb 10, 2016
“The entire situation breaks your heart. But we have a responsibility, working together as Republicans and Democrats, to fix the problem. This bill is an important step.”

WASHINGTON, DC – House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) today kicked off debate on H.R. 4470, the Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act, a bill that marks an important first step in our legislative response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. H.R. 4470 would ensure that the public learns of excessive lead levels in their drinking water by setting forth how and when states, EPA, and public water utilities communicate their findings.

For a fact sheet on the bill, click here.

For information on the bipartisan letters sent to EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, click here

 

(Remarks as Prepared for Delivery)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for taking time to consider H.R. 4470, an important first step in our legislative response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. 

I wish we were not here today. I wish this bill was not necessary. But it is. And our hearts all go out to the folks of Flint, Michigan. The system let them down at every level, and that’s unacceptable. All folks want is the peace of mind that their governments are looking out for their best interest, and that their water is safe.

This bill is a first step. Imagine, if you went to draw a cup of cold water from your kitchen faucet, and suddenly had to think twice about whether it’s safe to drink or not. Now put yourselves in the shoes of a parent whose child has already taken a drink from that faucet. What health risk has your child already been exposed to? What do we do now?  How can we expect a family to live day-to-day without safe drinking water? And after all those initial concerns, you begin asking yourself, how is this situation possible in the 21st century?

We have been seeking answers to that question from EPA, from the state of Michigan, and from others. But in the meantime, we know that part of the answer—certainly not the whole story—is that there were terrible breakdowns in communication at all levels of government. It is sickening, and it breaks your heart with the thousands of kids who could be at risk. Being poisoned from faucets they thought were safe.    

Government officials knew there was serious cause for concern and failed to inform the people of Flint. And many of those officials did not even seem to be effectively communicating and sharing data among themselves. 

The EPA regional office was not telling headquarters everything. The state was not telling EPA everything, and we don’t yet know what the city of Flint was telling the state or EPA. That must be fixed and it must be fixed now.

The Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act ensures that the public learns of excessive lead levels in their drinking water by setting forth how and when states, EPA, and public water utilities must communicate their findings. 

The bill also strengthens public notification rules when lead levels are exceeded. Individual consumers will be told when their own house tests positive for lead problems.  If the community or states fail to notify the public, EPA will step in and do so.

The bill also requires EPA to create a strategic plan for handling and improving information flow among water utilities, the states, EPA, and affected drinking water consumers before there is an enforceable lead exceedance in drinking water. Let me repeat that: Before lead levels get too high.

Finally, this bipartisan bill   requires consumer notification when water being transported in a lead pipe is so corrosive that it could leach lead into public drinking water.

I want to thank all members of the House for their support, especially my Michigan colleagues, each one of whom from both parties, signed on as original sponsors of the legislation. I’d especially like to thank Mr. Kildee who led in this effort. I also thank my colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee, particularly Frank Pallone, John Shimkus, and Paul Tonko, for their advice, collaboration, and support. I also want to thank two McCarthys: My lead counsel on this legislation Dave McCarthy and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for scheduling this vital legislation without hesitation.

What is said on the floor today will not do anything to ease the mind of a parent in Flint. The entire situation breaks your heart. But we have a responsibility, working together as Republicans and Democrats, to fix the problem. This bill is an important step. I reserve the balance of my time.

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