The usually smooth Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg unleashed a profanity to hit back at a claim that he only visited East Palestine, Ohio because former President Trump did.
“Those are bulls***,” he said in an interview with CNN. “We were ready to go.”
The 41-year-old former mayor and presidential candidate has been made a public scapegoat for the slippage, facing the wrath of Republicans who say he and the rest of the Biden administration were behind the wheel in responding to the crisis.
Buttigieg visited the Ohio-Pennsylvania border town on Feb. 23 — 20 days after the Norfolk Southern train derailed and leaked toxic chemicals into the community. Fifty cars — 10 carrying hazardous materials — went off the track and chemicals seeped into the air and local streams before officials caused a controlled burn.
Trump had visited a day earlier, where he accused the Biden administration of “indifference and betrayal” to the community.
Buttigieg admitted to CNN that he should have come sooner. But he claimed his conservative critics were feigning outrage at the city of 4,700, where the median household income is $46,000.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks to residents of East Palestine, Ohio, but did not respond to questions from reporters on Thursday, Feb. 23
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg finally visited eastern Palestine on Thursday, 20 days after the train derailment that has left Ohio’s community reeling and begging for answers from the Biden administration
It’s really rich to see that some of these people — the former president, these Fox hosts — are literally lifelong card-carrying members of the East Coast elite whose main economic policy priority has always been tax cuts for the rich, and who would want that? “If their lives depend on it, they don’t know their way around a TJ Maxx, presenting themselves as if they genuinely care about the forgotten middle of the country,” said the transport minister.
“Do you think Tucker Carlson knows the difference between a TJ Maxx and a Kohl’s?”
Still, Buttigieg said it would have made little material difference to him to visit the site earlier, as immediate accident response falls to other agencies. But he agreed it could have assured the community that their voices were being heard to see one of the more familiar faces of the Biden administration on the ground.
Buttigieg called Trump’s visit “somewhat maddening – to see someone who has tried a lot to undermine not only rail safety regulations, but also the EPA, which is the most important thing that stands between that community and a total loss of responsibility for Norfolk.” Southern state, and then show stopped handing out bottled water and campaign swag?’
The Secretary of Transportation has blamed Republicans for overturning the railroad rules.
“People who have sided with the rail industry time and again are suddenly acting like rail safety advocates,” Buttigieg said. “But it also creates the opportunity to call them to the table and say, ‘OK, if we’re serious now, let’s do this.'”
Federal investigators say the cause of the derailment was a mechanical problem with the train car’s axle.
In 2015, DOT proposed a rule that would require a high-tech braking system—electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes—on trains carrying more than 20 high-hazard combustible railcars (HHFT).
But Congress commissioned a cost-benefit analysis before the rule could be imposed, and the Trump administration repealed it in 2017. Buttigieg’s DOT has taken no steps to bring back the rule.
Nearly three weeks after the derailment of a hazardous waste train in eastern Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, cleanups continue.
A man takes photos as a black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, following a controlled detonation of part of the derailed Norfolk Southern train, Feb. 6, 2023.
The secretary has since said he wants to bring back the ECP braking rule and accelerate the phase-in of requiring more robust tankers to carry toxic chemicals. The new tank wagons are currently only needed in 2029.
Buttigieg said he also wants to increase the maximum amount DOT can fine railroads for safety violations.
Last week, Ohio Sens. JD Vance, R, and Sherrod Brown, D, a railroad safety bill that would require at least two-person crews, would include stricter risk mitigation rules for trains carrying hazardous materials, and require railroads to notify local emergency response teams when passing with hazardous materials.