Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is continuing to deal with political jabs from Republicans, some of whom it might as well be said have seemingly just begun to care about train disasters after a train carrying potentially hazardous chemicals derailed in Ohio.
The federal government quickly mobilized in response to the incident, and staff from the EPA already conducted testing of the air inside hundreds and hundreds of local residences as the clean-up operation continues. Federal personnel were in the area within hours. Yet, listening to some of these Republicans, it would sound like at least some of the federal government just ignored the disaster to some substantial extent, even as local residents faced threats from the spreading chemicals. Buttigieg responded Friday to one such letter from House Republicans on that chamber’s Oversight Committee that incorrectly identified a federal entity known as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as a part of the Transportation Department and pushed Buttigieg to provide information about that agency’s operations, although it’s not in his purview.
It’s a perceptibly embarrassing misstep. “I am alarmed to learn that the Chair of the House Oversight Committee thinks that the NTSB is part of our Department,” Buttigieg wrote Friday on Twitter. “NTSB is independent (and with good reason). Still, of course, we will fully review this and respond appropriately.” Republicans on the House Oversight Committee who signed the letter to which the Transportation Secretary was responding include Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.). Apparently, none of them checked to ensure what they were demanding Buttigieg provide was actually within his area of authority.
The letter also relies heavily on hyperbole, including a comment identified as from a hazardous materials specialist comparing the decision to burn off some of the lost chemicals to launching a nuclear weapon, which is obviously just an inaccurate comparison, Republicans’ usage of which distracts from efforts to address the problems people are actually facing down in the real world. Buttigieg already addressed in other comments to Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) the relevance of acknowledging the distinction between the work of the NTSB and that of the Department of Transportation. In short, pushing a reaction perceived as somehow proscriptive of the incident repeating when the investigative work into the causes of the crash continued just didn’t match up.
“During the initial response phase, I’ve followed the norm of staying out of the way of the independent NTSB,” Buttigieg replied to Scott. “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?” Buttigieg also noted in a recent interview how it didn’t appear Trump visited the site of a single train derailment during his presidency, an observation useful for pointing out the hypocrisy and returning to the facts here.
I am alarmed to learn that the Chair of the House Oversight Committee thinks that the NTSB is part of our Department. NTSB is independent (and with good reason). Still, of course, we will fully review this and respond appropriately. https://t.co/beNgtBnHqj
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) February 24, 2023