A GOP narrative quickly turned against Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in connection to an incident in Ohio involving the derailment of a train carrying potentially dangerous chemicals, but online, he and the Biden White House are outlining some of the real-world steps the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies have taken since just after the crash happened to support the response.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has even pushed for Buttigieg’s resignation. “USDOT involvement in the investigations and response in East Palestine began on Day One – and will not end until we have all the information (including NTSB findings) and tools we need to hold Norfolk Southern accountable,” Buttigieg said. Many others in the federal government are also participating in the response to the disaster. Staff from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were also on-scene within roughly a day, and what these individuals are doing includes closely monitoring what’s getting into the air, specifically examining the air quality inside what is already hundreds of nearby residences, and looking at what’s in the soil to help establish what’s needed for the urgent clean-up process.
That agency found that at least a couple evidently key chemicals weren’t present to what are recognized as dangerous extents in the air in people’s homes, although there are other avenues of potential contamination, like the water that flows nearby. “The EPA has assisted with the indoor air monitoring of 500 homes under a voluntary screening program offered to residents, and no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified above levels of concern,” a press release from the Biden admin said.
At the Department of Transportation, Buttigieg has already outlined prior steps the Biden team has taken to support rail safety, including with sizable grant programs to that effect. He also referenced legislative limits put on the department’s actions by Congress. Some years ago, members of Congress approved a demand for federal authorities to conduct new analyses of the costs and benefits associated with a braking initiative for transports by train and take concurrent action, and that led to undoing that policy effort.
In this situation, what is apparently the lack of a clear answer about the exact cause of the train derailment limits the effectiveness of remedial policy ideas. “Secretary Buttigieg refused to acknowledge the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable,” Rubio claimed, but dubious allegations about the official’s public commentary, when compared with what government personnel quickly began actually doing, are disingenuous. “During historic maritime and surface transportation disruptions in 2021, Secretary Buttigieg was completely absent,” Rubio also alleged, which is again deceptive. Biden’s admin actually got involved with industry stakeholders to find some solutions to hurdles and delays in the supply chains for goods reaching U.S. shores, with initiatives rolling out like expanded work hours at certain port areas to improve how what was waiting for pick-up was handled. Buttigieg discussed this.
USDOT involvement in the investigations and response in East Palestine began on Day One – and will not end until we have all the information (including NTSB findings) and tools we need to hold Norfolk Southern accountable.
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) February 18, 2023
This administration mobilized a robust multi-agency effort from day one that is supporting East Palestine every step of the way and holding Norfolk Southern accountable. https://t.co/OgbOuUkkQJ
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) February 19, 2023