EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is advocating for stricter regulations regarding rail safety. During his visit to the location of the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Buttigieg suggested that rail companies should be required to meet higher safety standards and face greater fines. He urged Congress to hold freight companies accountable for their safety records and also encouraged rail operators to work in cooperation with federal agencies, rather than fighting against them. Buttigieg noted that too often, the rail industry has been successful in influencing regulations in Washington. He pointed out that during the Trump administration, railway and environmental mandates were rolled back. Buttigieg’s comments came one day after former President Trump visited the community.
Buttigieg arrived in East Palestine on Thursday to inspect the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred on February 3rd. The derailment caused significant fears of contamination in the area, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been continuously testing the air and water quality since the incident occurred. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also investigating the causes of the crash.
Buttigieg shared a photo of himself at the site on his Instagram account and stated that he would be in East Palestine to “see the site of the Norfolk Southern derailment, hear updates from investigators, and meet first responders”. He promised that “USDOT will continue its work to ensure safety and accountability”.
Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Administrator Tristan Brown were expected to join Buttigieg during his visit. The NTSB was also expected to release its findings from the investigation.
A preliminary report from the NTSB suggests that the derailment was caused by a wheel bearing failure. Buttigieg assured residents that federal agencies will be working to mitigate the disaster for the long term and promised to hold railway operator Norfolk Southern accountable.
The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the site or face federal fines and penalties that would more than triple the cost to the company. Pennsylvania and Ohio are also considering criminal charges against the company for potential failures that led to the disaster.
Despite continued assurances from local officials, East Palestine residents remain worried about the disaster’s impact on drinking water, pets, crops, and livestock. Officials have been on the ground for days, trying to calm fears amplified by an estimated 3,500 small fish that turned up dead across several miles of streams after the crash.
It is not yet known whether President Joe Biden will visit East Palestine following his return home from Ukraine and Poland this past week.
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