Pete Buttigieg Publicly Debunks GOP Train Disaster Lies

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Republicans leaped at the chance to use the recent derailing of a train carrying potentially hazardous chemicals in Ohio for political purposes, with Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) even demanding that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg exit his post — but Buttigieg and others in the Biden administration are pushing back.

Buttigieg, who visited a local community affected by the derailment this week, replied to some of the antagonism posted online by both Rubio and fellow Florida GOP Senator Rick Scott. Buttigieg already previously addressed some of Rubio’s staged outrage, pointing observers back to a letter the Florida Senator supported in 2021 that promotes an idea of decreasing the number of visual inspections of train tracks done in the course of routine safety work, replacing those efforts with automated data collection on the tracks. Rubio claimed Buttigieg “was m.i.a. on the derailment” and “lies to media claiming my 2021 letter calling for more track inspections was a letter calling for deregulation.” The Senator was very selective in his description of the letter’s actual contents. Visual inspections no doubt have their own, unique benefits.

“The facts don’t lie,” Buttigieg replied Tuesday. “The 2021 letter you signed was obviously drafted by railroad industry lobbyists. It supports waivers that would reduce visual track inspections. Now: will you vote to help us toughen rail safety accountability and fines, or not? Here are some examples of what Congress can do to help (along with immediate steps we’ve been taking and what we demand rail companies do). If you’re serious, I’ll work with you on this.” He included a link at which a series of potential actions by Congress is featured. That list includes speeding up the implementation of updated tank cars for hazardous materials on trains and increasing the amounts federal authorities can impose as fines.

Buttigieg also replied to a post from Scott complaining about the timing of the Transportation Secretary’s visit to the community in Ohio impacted by the disaster. Those complaints distract from the work that federal authorities have been doing since just after the derailment took place. An investigation into the causes quickly began, and environmental staff from the federal government also quickly joined the work to test local air, soil, and water. That testing would help with both taking any needed precautions and establishing what’s required for the clean-up operation, which federal authorities have also been cornering Norfolk Southern — the company that was running the train — into covering. “During the initial response phase, I’ve followed the norm of staying out of the way of the independent NTSB,” Buttigieg said. “Now that we’re into the policy phase, I’ll be visiting – and I need your help. Will you work with us to toughen accountability standards on freight railroads?” He added the same link he shared in his response to Rubio.

“Happy to discuss timing of our Ohio visit – but starting to think some in Washington want that to be the main focus so that there aren’t too many questions about rail safety regulation, who is for and who is against,” Buttigieg added Wednesday. “We will hold the line on railroad safety and accountability.”