White House Shreds False Narrative From GOP After Ohio Train Derailment

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The Biden administration is consistently pushing back on rhetoric from the Right in response to the recent derailment of a train carrying potentially hazardous chemicals in Ohio.

The simple fact is that federal staff were quickly — meaning within a day — on the scene and swiftly started work to respond to the disaster. Personnel from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) got involved with testing the local air, water, and soil, including the air inside hundreds of homes, which besides helping ensure that any necessary and urgent safety precautions are undertaken also assists with establishing what’s needed for the clean-up operation. At the Transportation Department, Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been outlining new policy pushes and some of what the federal government has already done. In the latter category is money in support of local responses to incidents involving hazardous materials. Going forward, Buttigieg also addressed pushes to expand the staffing required for some of these trains and even increase the amount that officials can impose as fines, although Congress will need to act to accomplish that aim.

“Congressional Republicans and former Trump Administration officials owe East Palestine an apology for selling them out to rail industry lobbyists when they dismantled Obama-Biden rail safety protections as well as EPA powers to rapidly contain spills,” Andrew Bates, who is on the communications team in the Biden White House, said. “Congressional Republicans laid the groundwork for the Trump Administration to tear up requirements for more effective train brakes, and last year most House Republicans wanted to defund our ability to protect drinking water. There is only one way they can prove that they are finally disowning their long history of giveaways to rail industry management at the expense of communities like East Palestine.” And that method, Bates said, was bipartisan legislative cooperation on bolstering the rules around railways, including with increasing the fines allowed under the law.

The past action by Congress on brakes that Bates referenced was a demand for new examinations of the economic costs and benefits of updates to braking systems, with a concurrent demand for action by officials in line with whatever those analyses found. It was when Trump took office the updates were actually undone, although among the options now is redoing the measures. Now, Trump — who visited the community where the disaster took place this week, where he told onlookers to “have fun” — claimed local residents to have encountered “indifference and betrayal.” He’s trying to make a narrative where those actually in charge, including Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican who won another term just last year, insist there isn’t one. DeWine “has said Ohio has received all the resources it needs from the federal government,” according to the Associated Press earlier this week.