The water crisis in Flint, which still affects thousands of that Michigan city’s residents, emerged in surprising ways at the hearing for EPA nominee and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. In his remarks opening the hearing, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) cited Flint as an example of what Pruitt would need to fix — and what the Obama administration had wrought.

“The regulatory zeal of the last eight years has violated a fundamental principle of environmental stewardship, which is ‘do no harm,’” said Barrasso. “This failed environmental leadership has contributed to two of the worst government-created environmental disasters in decades: the Gold King Mine spill, and Flint, Michigan’s water crisis.”

There was a shift in the usual poker-faced expressions of Democrats when Barrasso said that. The Gold King Mine spill was the direct fault of the EPA, which botched the handling of a wastewater study. But the Flint crisis, and the presence of lead in water that poisoned residents for a year, was created by a confluence of factors. In a 2016 report, the EPA took blame for not alerting the public about the problem with lead in the water, but said that it had done so out of a preponderance of caution.

“EPA Region 5 did not issue an emergency order because the region concluded the state’s actions were a jurisdictional bar preventing the EPA from issuing a SDWA Section 1431 emergency order,”  the report stated. “However, the EPA’s 1991 guidance on SDWA Section 1431 orders states that if state actions are deemed insufficient, the EPA can and should proceed with a SDWA Section 1431 order, and the EPA may use its emergency authority if state action is not protecting the public in a timely manner.”

Over a series of questions, Pruitt embraced Barrasso’s framework example of “delay by the EPA” that needed to be fixed. “There should have been a more rapid response,” said Pruitt. 

No Democrat used time to disagree, but a trap was set later when Pruitt was pressed on whether lead was toxic to humans. “I haven’t looked at the scientific research,” said Pruitt, making clear that lead was toxic but giving opponents a quote to use.