U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg Visits East Palestine, Ohio

Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, visited East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced the preliminary findings of its investigation into the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train transporting hazardous materials.

The February 3rd derailment has caused significant health and environmental concerns for the locals, who have expressed dissatisfaction at how slowly the federal government has responded to the emergency.

The initial NTSB investigation results found the train was traveling 47 miles per hour, slower than the 50 miles per hour speed limit. An alarm that a hot axle triggered alerted the train three times.

Just before 8 a.m. on Thursday, Buttigieg arrived at the incident scene to meet with locals and get a status report on the NTSB’s inquiry.

“This morning I’m in East Palestine, Ohio, to see the site of the Norfolk Southern derailment, hear updates from investigators, and meet first responders. USDOT will continue its work to ensure safety and accountability,” Buttigieg tweeted Thursday morning.

According to Buttigieg, while in East Palestine he spoke with state leaders, including Ohio Emergency Management, local leaders from the county and community, council members, the mayor, other village staff, the village manager, the Waterworks manager, the chair of NTSB, and the local fire chief.

Buttigieg said that he was “inspired” by the “decency and resolve” of East Palestine’s people following the train disaster’s impact.

Although the full results of the NTSB investigation will take a while, Buttigieg said having the initial results is an important step in moving towards policy making to increase rail safety.

“While we will of course wait for their analysis and recommendations at the end of the full process to make certain judgements we will not wait for that process to run it’s course to continue doing everything that we can to raise the bar on rail safety and to hold people accountable,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg claimed that he delayed his travel to East Palestine to give the NTSB and emergency personnel room to carry out their duties.

“What I tried to do was balance two things: my desire to be involved and engaged and on the ground which is how I am generally wired to act and my desire to follow the norm of the transportation secretary allowing NTSB to really lead the initial stages of the public-facing work. I’ll do some thinking about whether I got that balance right. I felt strongly about this. I could have expressed that sooner,” Buttigieg said.

Before the visit, a representative for the Department of Transportation reaffirmed Wednesday that Buttigieg would travel only when it was “appropriate” and wouldn’t interfere with disaster response activities.

“The secretary is going now that the EPA has said it is moving out of the emergency response phase and transitioning to the long-term remediation phase. His visit also coincides with the NTSB issuing its factual findings of the investigation into the cause of the derailment and will allow the secretary to hear from USDOT investigators who were on the ground within hours of the derailment to support the NTSB’s investigation,” a spokesperson said.

The secretary was accompanied on his trip by the administrators of the Federal Railroad Administration Amit Bose and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Tristan Brown.

Michael Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had already been to East Palestine. On Wednesday, he took part in a CNN town hall and addressed questions from the audience. In an effort to allay people’s concerns about relocating their families to East Palestine, he declared that he would bring his own children to the region and raise them there if the air and water quality there were shown to be safe. According to Regan, no readings have been over the range that might negatively influence health.

Norfolk Southern’s CEO, Alan Shaw, informed the audience at the town hall on Wednesday that the organization has moved past the “emergency phase” and is collaborating with the EPA on a “long-term remediation plan.”

Former President Donald Trump visited the area the day before Buttigieg’s visit. Trump denounced the response from the Biden administration as a “betrayal” after he complimented the local politicians for their assistance in “an hour of need.” When questioned about Buttigieg’s lack of travel to East Palestine, Trump responded, “He should have been here a long time ago.”

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Pete Buttigieg” by Pete Buttigieg. 



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