Biden Administration Facing Criticism for Ohio Toxic Train Derailment Response

Biden Administration Facing Criticism for Ohio Toxic Train Derailment Response
An employee of HEPACO works in a creek along Sumner Street in downtown East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 5, 2023. (Lucy Schaly/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Facing scrutiny from Republicans and Democrats for what critics are calling a slow response to the Feb. 3 toxic train derailment in East Palestine, the Biden administration on Feb. 17 announced it would send more help to the eastern Ohio village after pleas from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Sen. J.D.Vance (R-Ohio), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and multiple House members from Ohio.

“The Biden administration has mobilized a robust, multi-agency effort to support the people of East Palestine, Ohio,” the White House said in a Feb. 17 statement.

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern Railway train derailed in East Palestine. Fifty of the 150 cars went off the tracks, including 10 that contained toxic chemicals. The crash sparked lingering fires, spilled chemicals onto the ground, and sent a plume of black smoke into the air.

To prevent an explosion, officials decided to conduct a controlled release of the chemicals, sending more pollutants into the air and onto the ground.

black plume
A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, on Feb. 6, 2023. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Residents were evacuated before the controlled burn.

“Within hours of the Norfolk Southern train derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deployed a team to East Palestine to support state and local emergency and environmental response efforts,” the White House said on Feb. 17. “The Department of Transportation (DOT) also arrived on scene to investigate what led to the derailment. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been closely coordinating with the emergency operations center, Ohio Emergency Management Agency, and Federal partners.

“Today, in response to Governor DeWine’s and the Ohio congressional delegation’s request on February 16 for additional federal public health support, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced they are deploying a team of medical personnel and toxicologists to conduct public health testing and assessments,” the White House statement continued.

“The team will support Federal, state, and local officials already on the ground to evaluate individuals who were exposed or potentially exposed to chemicals and help ensure timely communications to the public.”

On Feb. 16, DeWine announced that the derailment didn’t meet the Federal Emergency Management Association’s definition of a disaster.

On Feb. 17, DeWine and FEMA Regional Administrator Thomas C. Sivak released a joint statement announcing that a FEMA senior response official and Regional Incident Management Assistance Team would be sent to East Palestine.

Biden and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg have been the targets of criticism from members of both major political parties.

Pete Buttigieg
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg testifies at a Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies hearing on the 2023 budget for the Department of Transportation in Washington on April 28, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

Brown and Vance urged the Biden administration to be more responsive.

“The important thing to me, as the administrator said, is that we hold Norfolk Southern accountable,” Brown said on Feb. 16. “That means accountable for the tests for people to move back in” and “accountable for all the clean-up that would take weeks to assure people” that the air and water are safe.”

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg first commented about the crash 10 days after it happened and wrote on Twitter, “We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe.”

On Feb. 16, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) encouraged the Biden administration to ask for Buttigeig’s resignation.

“Secretary Buttigieg refused to acknowledge the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable,” Rubio said in a letter. “Even after acknowledging the tragedy, he continues to deflect any accountability for the safety of our nation’s rail system. The circumstances leading up to the derailment point to a clear lack of oversight and demand engagement by our nation’s top transportation official.”

On Feb. 15, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) posted on Twitter, “What is going on in Ohio? Corporations won’t answer for their negligence, EPA won’t answer about safety, Mayor Pete won’t show up.”

A day later, Hawley called for Buttigieg to step down in a TV interview.

“Yes, my gosh, he should have resigned after the rail strike. He should certainly resign now,” Hawley said. “Has he even been to East Palestine yet, Ohio? I mean, it’s, it’s terrible.”

Vance visited East Palestine on Feb. 16 and offered words of advice for Biden.

“I haven’t spoken to President Biden. My message to him is pretty simple. One, the Department of Transportation, your Department of Transportation, has things they can do. Stop blaming Donald Trump, a guy who hasn’t been president for three years, and use the powers of the federal government to do the things necessary to help the people in this community,” Vance said.

“The second thing I’d say is, a lot of this is about leadership and just being available to people and making them realize—look, the biggest concern for the people of East Palestine is that they’re going to be forgotten in a week,” Vance added. “When the cameras disappear and the politicians are no longer around, are there still going to be people who are focused on them?

“I think the president could do a lot,” Vance continued. “Just standing in the White House press room for 30 seconds and saying, ‘people of East Palestine, I see you. We’re not going to forget about you.’ I think that’s an important signal for the president to send.”

In her press briefing on Feb. 16, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Buttigieg, saying “we do have absolute confidence” in the Secretary of Transportation.

Since the derailment, numerous East Palestine residents have complained of headaches, skin rashes, blood in the stool, and vomiting among other ailments.

Around 3,500 fish have been killed in various creeks in East Palestine and the Columbiana County area from the derailment’s chemical spill, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported.

In her press briefing on Feb. 16, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Buttigieg, saying “we do have absolute confidence” in the Secretary of Transportation.

Biden does not have plans to visit East Palestine in the near future, the White House said. In a tweet on Feb. 17, Donald Trump Jr. said his father—former President Donald Trump—would visit the village next week.

“If our ‘leaders’ are too afraid to actually lead real leaders will step up and fill the void,” Trump Jr. wrote.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich also posted on Twitter on Feb. 17 that she would visit East Palestine.

Brockovich became a widely known whistleblower when she spoke out against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) in 1993.

An unexplained illness impacting the residents of Hinckley, California, and her work determined that PG&E had leaked toxic chemicals into the city’s groundwater for more than 30 years.

Legal action against PG&E resulted in a $333 million settlement.

“I will be in #EastPalenstine [sic] for a town hall on Thursday,” Brockovich posted on Twitter on Feb. 17. “Details to come.”

The town hall’s time and location have not been announced.

From The Epoch Times

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