Biden Announces Health Grants, Receives Frosty Welcome in First Visit to East Palestine

Biden Announces Health Grants, Receives Frosty Welcome in First Visit to East Palestine
President Joe Biden (C) listens as East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway (2nd from R) speaks during an operational briefing from officials on the continuing response and recovery efforts at the site of a train derailment which spilled hazardous chemicals a year ago in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 16, 2024. Also pictured are East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick (2 from L) and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan (R). (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Boisterous supporters of former President Donald Trump shouted, “One year too late” as President Joe Biden’s long motorcade arrived in downtown East Palestine on Feb. 16.

It marked President Biden’s first visit to the eastern Ohio village that became a household name across the United States when a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed on Feb. 3, 2023.

Hours before President Biden arrived in East Palestine, a group of Trump supporters gathered on one side of the street in the center of downtown. They formed a line that stretched a block on Market St. Across the street, members of an organization working to get environmental and health support for East Palestine and its surrounding communities demonstrated.

Multiple people who carried banners and signs that praised President Trump and chastised President Biden told The Epoch Times that the current president’s visit is campaign motivated. Meanwhile, President Biden backers gathered on one street corner hoping to catch a glimpse of his motorcade.

Columbiana County, where East Palestine is situated, overwhelmingly backed President Trump in the 2020 presidential election, giving him around 72 percent of the vote. If East Palestine was an urban city in a “blue state,” President Biden would have arrived not long after the derailment, many residents surmised.

Before President Biden’s visit, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “You will see a president who goes out there—whether it’s a red state, blue state, urban America, rural America—to hear and make sure he is a president for all.”

Brian Mahoney is one of the demonstrators who disagreed with Ms. Jean-Pierre’s view. He drove to East Palestine from West Virginia in a pickup truck adorned with Trump flags and handwritten messages criticizing President Biden.

“I’ve been coming here since right after the derailment happened. We brought four tractor-trailer loads of supplies here for these people. We’ve been back four more times since then,” Mr. Mahoney explained. “Private citizens and groups—patriots—are the ones helping East Palestine, not the government. The government has let these people down while it has given millions and millions to other countries. That’s the type of response they’ve given to East Palestine.”

Mr. Mahoney referenced President Trump’s visit to East Palestine less than three weeks after the derailment. The former president traveled to the village and brought water “because he cares about people,” Mr. Mahoney told The Epoch Times.

NTD Photo
“Too Little, Too Late” was a common response from East Palestine residents preparing for President Joe Biden’s visit to Ohio on Feb. 16, 2024. (Jeff Louderback/The Epoch Times)

“He doesn’t need to be a politician. He’s a billionaire. And he wasn’t even running for president at the time. He did what he did because he cares. President Biden just cares about lining his pockets and lining the pockets of his family. Coming here more than a year after it (the derailment) happened? He could have been here long before now, and not when he is trying to look good because it’s an election year,” Mr. Mahoney continued.

Mike Powell and his wife, Vicki Powell, were two of the Biden supporters in a town where President Trump is beloved. They held a sign that read, “Welcome to E.P.” as they waited for President Biden’s motorcade.

“We are welcoming a sitting president to town, which I think is the patriotic thing to do,” Mrs. Powell said.

Mr. Powell told The Epoch Times that “it’s not a big deal” that President Biden made his first trip to East Palestine more than a year after the derailment.

“It makes sense he would go to places that have been hit by hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters where lives have been lost and property has been destroyed. Not one inch of property has been damaged here, and not one life has been lost,” Mr. Powell said.

“This is a presidential visit, not a political visit. He is here to see what’s been done and what needs to be done,” he added.

NTD Photo
Husband and wife Mike and Vicki Powell were among a small group of President Biden supporters in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 16, 2024. (Jeff Louderback/The Epoch Times)

Biden Touches Down

President Biden arrived at the Pittsburgh International Airport and first stopped in Darlington, a western Pennsylvania town near the Ohio border, where he talked to first responders who were on the scene in East Palestine.

Minutes later, President Biden arrived near the crash site in East Palestine, a village of 4,700 around a mile from the Pennsylvania state line. EPA Administrator Michael Regan and East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, a vocal critic of President Biden, joined the briefing.

When the motorcade ventured into downtown East Palestine, where the village’s municipal building is located, it was greeted with people on both sides of the street, some of whom waved their middle finger or offered a thumbs-down signal. Signs ranged from “Go home, sleepy Joe” and “Too little, too late” to banners with derogatory language directed at the president and messages longing for a return of President Trump to the White House.

While in East Palestine, President Biden delivered a speech, accusing Norfolk Southern of the train derailment and the harm it caused to the community.

“Let me clear. While there are acts of God, this was an act of greed that was 100 percent preventable,” President Biden said.

“Norfolk Southern failed its responsibility. We know multimillion-dollar railroad companies transporting toxic chemicals have the responsibility to do it safely.”

Earlier this year, Public Citizen released a report showing that Norfolk Southern spent more than $2 million on lobbying the government in 2023, a 30 percent increase from the $1,800,000 it spent in 2022.

The report indicated that Norfolk Southern’s lobbying expenditures in 2023 was its highest reported total since 2015.

The company estimated that total costs related to the derailment could eclipse $1.1 billion. The figure does not include additional lawsuits and penalties, and additional cleanup efforts.

Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern reported last week that it would end its temporary relocation assistance payments to residents on Feb. 9. The company had paid hotel costs and living expenses for East Palestine residents who lived elsewhere after the derailment.

In East Palestine, President Biden announced health grants to six universities to study the short and long-term impacts of what occurred in East Palestine. These grants were given to teams at the Case Western Reserve University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Kentucky, Texas A&M University, and the University of California, San Diego.

The research will be conducted in partnership with East Palestine and will help identify potential health impacts and support long-term monitoring of residents’ health and wellness.

President Biden also reiterated his support for the bipartisan Railway Safety Act, which would establish new requirements for rail carriers and trains transporting hazardous materials. Among the co-sponsors of the bill, which has stalled in Congress, are Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance and Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Few Americans could point to East Palestine, Ohio, on a map until Feb. 3, 2023. Around 9 p.m. on that night, a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train carrying 151 cars derailed in what would become a health and environmental tragedy. Hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, spilled onto the ground and into the air.

When 38 of the rail cars derailed, a fire ensued, damaging an additional 12 cars.

Authorities—fearing a major explosion—decided to release and burn vinyl chloride from five cars on Feb. 6, sending a massive cloud of black smoke into the sky. Visible for miles, it was likened to the mushroom cloud caused by a nuclear weapon.

They called it a “controlled burn” but residents claim it was anything but controlled. A dark cloud of chemical-filled smoke could be seen for miles. Debris landed on properties several miles away.

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Clean up continues in the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern Railroad train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 14, 2023. (Jeff Louderback/The Epoch Times)

Train cars ruptured, spilling their contents into a drainage ditch that connects to Sulphur Run, a stream that flows through the heart of East Palestine.

A year later, the cleanup work continues. Officials from federal and state agencies have repeatedly said tests show that the air and water are safe in East Palestine and surrounding communities. Residents are still complaining about a toxic smell in the air, burning eyes, rashes, and headaches, among other health issues.

“We’re not leaving until it’s all done,” President Biden said, noting that the disaster response was around two-thirds complete but that the U.S. government will keep supporting East Palestine for decades.

The EPA insists that the air and the water are safe in East Palestine. Before departing the village, President Biden stopped at the 1820 House Candle Company, where he met with the owners and Mr. Conaway’s family and got a floral-scented candle for First Lady Jill Biden.

President Biden accepted a cup of coffee and took a sip, and he also drank a glass of water.

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President Joe Biden drinks a glass of water during a stop at a candle shop called 1820 Candle Co. in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 16, 2024. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

On Feb. 15, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in the daily press briefing that, “The president has no concerns with drinking the water in East Palestine. The EPA is confident that the drinking water is safe.”

Crystal Mahoney stood near the East Palestine Municipal Building awaiting President Biden’s motorcade to pass. She held a sign that expressed her displeasure that 378 days had passed since the derailment and no railway safety legislation had been passed.

She also told The Epoch Times that she is one of many East Palestine residents who recently received 1099 forms to file taxes for temporary relocation assistance paid by Norfolk Southern. The water at her home still smells, she said.

“It’s more than a year after the derailment, and we are still drinking bottled water because our water smells. We don’t trust the EPA. We don’t know if it’s safe or not,” Ms. Mahoney said.

During the briefing in East Palestine, President Biden ignored a reporter’s question about why it took him more than a year to visit the community. East Palestine residents, and Trump supporters who traveled to the village to demonstrate, were not hesitant to share their opinion of the president not venturing to East Palestine for 378 days.

Ali Muntean traveled to East Palestine with her 11-year-old daughter, Addie, from their home in North Canton located around an hour north.

“This is an important lesson for my daughter, and all children, because it shows that Americans can demonstrate peacefully without causing violence, unlike what was shown by groups like BLM,” Ms. Muntean said.

Across the street from where Ms. Muntean stood, a small group of Biden demonstrators held signs welcoming the president to East Palestine. One sign read, “We know you care.”

“This is part of why we are here, for her (Addie) to see what the First Amendment is all about when it is respected,” Ms. Muntean added, noting the group of Biden supporters. “It’s embarrassing, though, how our president can send so much money to other countries and ignore a place right here that badly needs it,” Ms. Muntean added.

Bernie Moreno is a Republican running for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Democrat Sherrod Brown, one of the co-sponsors of the Railway Safety Act with Republican Sen. J.D. Vance.

Mr. Moreno, who is endorsed by President Trump and Mr. Vance, called President Biden’s visit “a perfect encapsulation of what’s wrong with Washington” as he stood amid the pro-Trump rally in downtown East Palestine.

“We have leaders in Washington that care more about sending our money to foreign countries who hate us, by the way, rather than taking care of problems here at home. That shows what November is going to be all about. President Trump puts America first, and President Biden puts America last,” he added.

Across the street from the vocal pro-Trump group, Timothea Deeter held a sign urging President Biden to “Declare the Emergency,” while other demonstrators held signs asking for independent environmental testing and aid.

A community organizer at River Valley Organizing, an Ohio environmental justice nonprofit that coordinated the gathering, Ms. Deeter welcomed President Biden’s visit but told The Epoch Times that she is “a bit wary” of the intentions.

“If he’s going to come and take a bunch of pictures and use this as a photo op, that’s not OK. We need aid. If he’s here to help earnestly, I welcome that,” Ms. Deeter said.

Many East Palestine residents said they would like President Biden to issue a “long overdue” emergency declaration that would provide more federal resources to the community.

“There is a lot he can do that the government has not done yet. The emergency declaration is one. We would also like to see [them] make decisions to get us the healthcare assessments and ongoing overall healthcare we need,” Ms. Deeter added.

President Biden’s visit accommodated one of Ms. Deeter’s wishes when he announced the health grants to six universities to study the short and long-term impacts of what occurred in East Palestine.

The president left East Palestine without issuing an emergency declaration.

Emel Akan contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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