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Congressman Dan Kildee talks about Hekmati's release and about the Flint water crisis

Jan 18, 2016

Congressman Kildee and Amir Hekmati in Germany on January 18, 2016.
Credit Rep. Dan Kildee's office.

A nearly four-and-a-half year nightmare has ended for the Hekmati family of Flint.

Marine veteran Amir Hekmati was reunited today with his sisters and brother-in-law at the U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

That's where he and two other Americans were taken after being released from an Iranian prison over the weekend.

Hekmati had been a prisoner of Iran since August of 2011.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, was there with the Hekmati family. He has been working for Hekmati's release ever since he was elected to Congress in 2013.

Congressman Kildee joined us shortly before his first meeting with Amir Hekmati.

Kildee said he learned of Amir Hekmati's release from Hekmati's sister, Sarah Hekmati. Kildee said there had been a lot of work behind the scenes to get him released.

"We never would have had the channels open to us had it not been for the fact that President Rouhani and President Obama spoke in October of 2013, which led to the nuclear negotiation, which opened the opportunity for increased dialog, which led to today, which is a great day and it's a great testament to diplomacy," said Kildee.

Kildee's reaction to the Flint water crisis

When we spoke with Virginia Tech's Marc Edwards last week he put a lot of the blame of the Flint water crisis on the actions of EPA Region 5.

We asked if Kildee if he thinks the ongoing federal and state investigations should look into the actions of EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman.

Kildee said he's not sure about investigations into individuals at EPA, but he thinks they should look into the EPA's role in what happened in Flint.

"There are claims, continually ... that the EPA has oversight, but not direct authority of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality," says Kildee.

The EPA has said it was working with the MDEQ to put corrosion control in place in Flint, but that it could not force the state agency to do so. 

Kildee says if that's the correct interpretation of the law, he wants to change it.

"I'm going to make it my business to make sure the law is clarified so that the EPA does have the ability to step in and require a state agency that is failing to protect public health to do so, or remove that state agency from responsibility," says Kildee.

EPA officials have told us that the federal agency has never taken away control, also known as "primacy," from a state agency like that.

"When there is a problem, and the EPA is aware of it, I want to know about it."

Kildee says the agency, at the very least, had an obligation to make the information available to the public.

"When there is a problem, and the EPA is aware of it, I want to know about it," says Kildee. "I want everyone to know about it. And then let the public, let knowledge, let transparency be the kind of pressure that would persuade any entity, MDEQ or otherwise, to do what's right."

Kildee says the EPA's quiet persuasion to try to get MDEQ to do the right thing was not enough.

"And that's where I think if I see culpability, it's in not seeing the EPA shout from the from the mountaintop that there's lead in the water in Flint and the MDEQ won't do anything about it, so that then the public could be motivated and activated," says Kildee.

Kildee says Gov. Snyder, in his State of the State speech tomorrow night, should commit big resources to make things right in Flint.

*Editor's note: In an interview last week, Marc Edwards blamed the EPA for keeping Miquel Del Toral's work under wraps and thereby delaying any action in Flint. We reached out to the EPA for its response. The agency sent this statement:

"EPA Region 5 Regulations Manager Miguel Del Toral is a top expert on lead and copper in drinking water and one of the people appointed to the Flint Safe Drinking Water Task Force by the EPA Regional Administrator.  In late June, Del Toral sent a memo to his colleagues summarizing tap water sampling conducted at three residences in Flint and providing recommendations to control corrosion from lead service lines and lead plumbing. 

EPA Region 5 did not publicly release Del Toral’s memo because it contained confidential personal and enforcement-sensitive information. But it was immediately circulated to the entire EPA Region 5 team that was working to require Flint to implement corrosion control.  In mid-July, MDEQ agreed to issue an order requiring the City of Flint to implement corrosion control treatment.

In September, a MDEQ spokesperson criticized Mr. Del Toral, calling him a 'rogue employee.'  The EPA Regional Administrator called the MDEQ director, the Michigan Governor’s Office and the Flint Mayor to vehemently object to that statement.   The MDEQ spokesperson subsequently called Mr. Del Toral to apologize for the remark."