Buttigieg to visit East Palestine after train derailment and toxic spill

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Salvation Army volunteers distribute water and cleaning supplies to residents on Saturday, February 18, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio.

Matthew Hatcher | Bloomberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will visit East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday, where a recent train derailment sparked the spill of toxic chemicals into the community.

The department said Buttigieg plans to meet with community members, get updates from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation and hear from Department of Transportation investigators who were on the ground after the February 3 derailment.

A spokesman for Buttigieg said in a statement Wednesday that the secretary had said he would visit the area when it was appropriate to do so and when it would not detract from emergency response efforts.

The trip will coincide with Thursday’s release of a preliminary report by the NTSB about its investigation into the derailment.

“The secretary is leaving now that EPA has said it is exiting the emergency response phase and transitioning to the long-term remedial phase,” the spokesperson said. “Her visit also coincides with the release of its factual findings of the NTSB’s investigation into the cause of the derailment and will allow the Secretary to hear from USDOT investigators within hours of the derailment to support the NTSB’s investigation.” were on the ground.”

The statement said the Department of Transportation will “continue to help get to the bottom of the reasons for implementing rail safety measures and implementing rail safety measures, and we hope that this sudden bipartisan support for rail safety will lead to more legislation in Congress.” Meaningful change will come.” ,

Buttigieg’s visit comes a day after former President Donald Trump’s planned trip to the region.

Republicans have called on Buttigieg to resign after the train derailment, claiming he has been slow to react to the disaster. Buttigieg, however, Tweeted Last week that his department’s ability to regulate the rail system is “constrained by law” because of a braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Buttigieg when asked about criticism from Republicans and Democrats.

“We have complete confidence” in Buttigieg, Jean-Pierre said at a news briefing.

On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced a sweeping enforcement action to compel Norfolk Southern, the rail company involved in the accident, to conduct and pay for cleanup work associated with the 150-car train derailment, which contained toxic chemicals. Were.

The order requires the company to identify and clean up contaminated soil and water; Pay any EPA costs, including reimbursing the agency for cleanup services provided to residents and businesses; and participate in public meetings and post information online at the request of the EPA.

In a statement, Norfolk Southern said, “We recognize that we have a responsibility, and we are committed to doing what is right for the residents of East Palestine. We are paying for cleanup activities to date and will continue to Will continue to do so.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro also said Tuesday that his office had made a criminal referral in response to the train derailment, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine indicated that his state’s attorney general was also preparing to take legal action. Are.

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