It has been announced that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will travel to East Palestine, Ohio, approximately three weeks after a Norfolk Southern train crashed there, releasing deadly chemicals into the community.
On Monday, Buttigieg told reporters that he would announce a visit “when the time is appropriate,” suggesting that he hesitated to commit to a specific date.
Buttigieg’s travel, which took place on February 23, was confirmed by the Department of Transportation on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the department assured the media that Buttigieg would leave only when necessary and that his absence would not hinder rescue operations. The spokesperson added that Buttigieg decided to go since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would move from the emergency response phase into the long-term restoration phase.
The EPA administrator, Michael Regan, held a press conference on Tuesday in East Palestine to declare that the company Norfolk Southern would be responsible for “all remediation activities” related to the chemical incident.
No other official from the Biden administration has visited the town since the crash, and so far, only Regan has seen it. The administration’s handling of the tragedy has come under growing scrutiny in light of this fact and the fact that Buttigieg waited ten days to acknowledge the catastrophe officially.
Despite this, the Transportation Department insisted on Wednesday that the administration’s responses were reasonable.
A representative for the agency said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of the federal action to get Norfolk Southern to clean up the chemical leak.
The Department of Transportation has promised to do its part to determine what caused the crash and enact rail safety measures. It has expressed confidence that the newfound unanimous support for rail safety will lead to substantial legislation changes in Congress.
Buttigieg plans to visit East Palestine to speak with locals, learn more about the investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, and talk with Transportation Department detectives who reacted to the scene and are aiding with the probe.
The announcement of Buttigieg’s travel follows former President Donald Trump’s visit to East Palestine on Wednesday. Trump criticized the administration’s early hesitation for sending government aid to help people with their recovery efforts.
At a news conference held at the East Palestine Fire Station, Trump said that Biden and FEMA had previously said they would not provide government aid to East Palestine under any circumstances. However, they changed their minds once he announced his visit.
The ex-president also revealed that he had coordinated the distribution of thousands of water bottles and cleaning goods to locals to aid with the ongoing cleanup and restoration efforts.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg also advocated for stricter rules governing the rail industry, proposing a three-pronged strategy to improve rail safety, including enhanced inspection tools, more secure tank cars, and advanced warning to emergency response teams when hazardous gas is being transported by rail through their state.