After a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, this month, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, accusing him of being slow to act as partisan tensions over what the residents of the small town claim is an ongoing environmental disaster rise.
With regard to his public response to the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment and “communications sufficient to demonstrate when you heard about the train derailment,” the panel sent Buttigieg a letter on Friday requesting five tranches of documents.
Although the message does not explicitly state that it is a subpoena, which would legally require Buttigieg to give over the documents, the letter requests that all information be submitted by March 10 at the latest.
Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the committee’s head, and fiery Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene are among those who signed (R-Ga.).
Although Buttigieg said during his first trip to East Palestine on Thursday that he wished he had spoken out about the disaster “sooner” than his tweet a week and a half after the event, he defended his decision to wait three weeks to visit as adhering to “the norm.” The Transportation Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.
“You must make this matter transparent to the American people as Secretary of Transportation. Instead, you have sought to assign responsibility for infrastructure that falls under DOT’s purview, the letter claims.
On February 3 near East Palestine, nearly 40 rail cars on a Norfolk Southern train derailed, 12 were injured, and a fire broke out, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of dangerous chemicals into the neighborhood. Three days later, as officials conducted a controlled burn of toxic chemicals, evacuation orders were issued for nearby residents. As a result, a short black smoke cloud rose above East Palestine. Residents have insisted at public meetings where they have grilled officials and Norfolk Southern leadership that they are dealing with health problems as a result of the derailment, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s statement this week that there is no indication of air quality problems and Ohio officials’ statement that the water is safe to drink. The EPA has mandated that Norfolk Southern pay for the cleaning in full.
On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump traveled to East Palestine and gave out palates of “Trump Water” to the locals while pleading with President Joe Biden to “get back from touring Ukraine” and pay a call to the region. If Biden intends to visit East Palestine, the White House has not yet confirmed this. Republican officials and right-wing commentators criticized the White House’s response to the disaster and asserted that the administration’s relative silence in the hours that followed the derailment was yet another indication that Democrats were ignoring the so-called Rust Belt region, despite the fact that federal workers were on the scene helping. The messaging of speaking out to “forgotten Americans” has been crucial to Republicans’ recent dominance of blue-collar areas like East Palestine. Throughout the 2000s, presidential contests in Columbiana County, which is where East Palestine is located, were determined by single-digit margins, but Trump won the county by nearly 45 percentage points in 2020.
Trump tried to shrink the EPA, and the White House has noted that he withdrew a plan in 2018 that would have required more sophisticated braking systems on trains transporting some toxic chemicals. Trump said Wednesday he “had nothing to do” with any loosening of rail safety standards.
What Is Unknown
The National Transportation Safety Board’s initial report, which was made public on Thursday, did not pinpoint a specific cause for the derailment but did note that a wheel bearing had reached a temperature of more than 250 degrees, setting off an alarm that warned the train’s crew. The wheel bearing then failed as the train attempted to slow down. The report did not find any wrongdoing on the part of the crew.
More than 43,000. That’s how many animals the Ohio Department of Natural Resources believes have died as a result of the derailment.