Amid criticism from Republicans, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will go to East Palestine, Ohio, Thursday to see the site of the recent major train derailment.
The visit comes 20 days after the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals that then infused the air and water in the area, notes Politico, which reported Buttigieg’s trip based on an unnamed source. The Department of Transportation has now confirmed that he is going.
U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, both Republicans from Florida, have contended that Buttigieg isn’t handling the situation properly and should have already visited the site. The out Cabinet secretary has responded to both of them on Twitter.
But “it is exceedingly rare for a transportation secretary to visit the site of a train derailment, especially one that resulted in no fatalities — even though this crash has resulted in unusually heavy national media attention, partly driven by the televised image of the accident’s toxic black plume and residents’ anger over the safety of their air and water,” Politico reports. “About 1,000 train derailments occur each year, according to federal data.”
Buttigieg is scheduled to receive an update from the National Transportation Safety Board and Transportation Department investigators. He will be joined by representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. He also plans to meet with residents of East Palestine, a town of about 5,000.
“I have followed the normal practice of transportation secretaries in the early days after a crash, allowing NTSB to lead the safety work and staying out of their way,” Buttigieg told CBS News Tuesday. “But I am very eager to have conversations with people in East Palestine about how this has impacted them.”
“As the secretary said, he would go when it is appropriate and wouldn’t detract from the emergency response efforts,” a Transportation Department spokesperson told CBS. “The secretary is going now that the [Environmental Protection Agency] has said it is moving out of the emergency response phase and transitioning to the long-term remediation phase.”
Donald Trump visited the site Tuesday and bashed President Joe Biden’s administration for its response to the derailment, even though Trump had rolled back rail safety regulations when he was president.
“They were doing nothing for you,” Trump said in a brief speech, Columbus TV station WSYX reports. “They were intending to do nothing for you. ... When I announced that I was coming, they changed their tune. It was quite the phenomenon.” Trump didn’t take questions and went to McDonald’s after his appearance.
East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway had been critical of Biden’s decision to visit Ukraine Monday. The president met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky almost a year after Russia invaded the nation. “Absolutely, that was the biggest slap in the face that tells you right now he doesn’t care about us,” Conaway said on Fox News Monday.
In a Tuesday news briefing, Conaway said he stands by his comments but that Biden is welcome to visit, Cincinnati’s WLWT reports. He doesn’t want East Palestine to be used as a “political pawn,” he added.