Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, is pushing back on nonsense from Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) after a recent train derailment in Ohio sent potentially dangerous chemicals into the local environment, sparking widespread concern and an urgent clean-up effort.
Although a press release from the Biden admin noted staff with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) traveled to the area within what would be hours and have since provided services like testing the air inside hundreds of local homes, Rubio recently pushed for Buttigieg’s resignation, complaining that the Cabinet official didn’t publicly speak about the incident sooner. While outreach is of course a substantive factor, what’s more important in this situation in simply objective terms? Doing the work to help local residents or giving the kind of public remarks that probably wouldn’t even silence push-back from figures like the Senator?
“We heard from Sen. Rubio last week, who had some pretty strong words about this incident,” Buttigieg said on a call with journalists that HuffPost recapped. “I can’t help but notice the last time this agency heard from him on rail regulation was his signature being on a letter that was pretty obviously drafted by industry, calling on us to weaken our practices around track inspection.”
That letter was issued in 2021. Elsewhere, Buttigieg has continued pushing proactive actions by the federal government, including Congress, where members approved a bill some years ago that set the process in motion that resulted in undoing new rules demanding updated braking systems for certain trains. One of the other ongoing pushes is for Congress to raise a level of fines authorities are legally able to impose on railway companies, Buttigieg has outlined. That limit currently stands at just over $225,000, which is obviously limited in ways it can impact a financially huge company like Norfolk Southern, which was running the train that went off the tracks in Ohio. Buttigieg is also pushing a change in rules that would expand levels of staffing required in trains and “wants Congress to reinstate a 2025 deadline for railroads to use safer tank cars,” as HuffPost noted Tuesday.
There is an investigation underway by the National Transportation Safety Board, which once showing more of what specifically led to the incident in Ohio will help inform specific policy decisions. Meanwhile, federal staff like EPA personnel are also involved with monitoring impacts to the local soil and water, data from which will help establish what’s needed for a comprehensive clean-up operation, which federal officials are pushing Norfolk Southern to financially cover. The narrative that the Biden administration has somehow ignored the substance and seriousness of the situation is just false.
The people of East Palestine deserve action. USDOT has been on the ground since day one, and today we’re announcing our drive to hold the freight rail industry accountable and to improve rail safety. https://t.co/86VYgjiHbf
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) February 21, 2023