Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is calling on Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg to resign, saying that the Democrat demonstrated a ‘gross level of incompetence and apathy’ in dealing with the East Palestine, Ohio train disaster.
Rubio penned a letter to President Joe Biden on Thrusday, demanding the 41-year-old Buttigieg’s firing, writing he ‘refused to acknowledge the disaster’ in East Palestine ‘until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable.’
‘For two years, Secretary Buttigieg downplayed and ignored crisis after crisis, while prioritizing topics of little relevance to our nation’s transportation system,’ the Florida Republican said. ‘It is painfully clear to the American people that Secretary Buttigieg has little regard for the duties of the Secretary of Transportation.’
On Thursday Buttigieg told Yahoo Finance that train derailments are common.
‘While this horrible situation has gotten a particularly high amount of attention, there are roughly 1,000 cases a year of a train derailing,’ Buttigieg said. ‘Obviously they have levels of severity.’
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (left) sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday asking for the resignation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (right) over his handling of the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment
Drone footage shows the Norfolk Southern freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 6, which resulted in a massive toxic chemical spill that locals said have tainted their water and killed wildlife
‘Now this train was subject to certain enhanced requirements because of the hazardous materials on board, but obviously none of that prevented what happened,’ the former South Bend, Indiana mayor continued. ‘We’re going to be paying very close attention to the findings that NTSB come back [with].’
Buttigieg also noted that rail safety had improved through the years.
‘But there’s clearly more that needs to be done,’ he offered.
Buttigieg is considered a rising star of the Democratic Party. He ran unsuccessfully for the White House in 2020 after being elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana and taking office at age 29.
Rubio wasn’t the only Republican panning his response, with Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley saying, ‘Oh I feel much better now,’ sharing his response to Buttigieg’s remarks on Twitter.
During Thursday’s press briefing White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had ‘absolute confidence’ in the job Buttigieg was doing.
In his letter to Biden, Rubio also pointed to Buttigieg’s use of a government private jet for travel – something the Florida senator asked the DOT’s inspector general to look into in December.
‘I hope you will change course in order to uphold your so-far-unmet promise to the American people by requesting the immediate resignation of Secretary Buttigieg,’ Rubio encouraged Biden.
Lawmakers from the region have been critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the derailment, which resulted in a massive toxic chemical spill.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said it was ‘unacceptable’ that no senior Biden administration official had visited East Palestine, Ohio until Thursday – 13 days after a Norfolk Southern train veered off-track.
EPA administrator Michael Regan was on the ground in the Ohio-Pennsylvania border town Thursday speaking with locals, surveying the scene and addressing the public.
‘It has been 13 days since a Norfolk Southern train derailed causing a dangerous chemical fire and forcing residents to evacuate,’ Manchin, whose state also has a border nearby the site of the spill, said in a statement.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said it was ‘unacceptable’ that no senior Biden administration official had visited East Palestine, Ohio until Thursday – 13 days after a Norfolk Southern train veered off-track
‘Do not forget these people. We’ve got to keep applying pressure,’ Vance says
‘This is disgusting,’ Vance says after scraping the bottom of a creek and allowing what looks like chemicals to rise to the surface
‘While I am glad EPA Administrator Regan will visit the site today, it is unacceptable that it took nearly two weeks for a senior Administration official to show up.’
‘I urge President Biden, Administrator Regan, and Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to provide a complete picture of the damage and a comprehensive plan to ensure the community is supported in the weeks, months and years to come, and this sort of accident never happens again. The damage done to East Palestine and the surrounding region is awful and it’s past time for those responsible to step up to the plate.’
Meanwhile Ohio’s GOP Sen. J.D. Vance challenged Regan to drink the tap water his agency has deemed safe in East Palestine.
‘It reminds me of the scene in Erin Brockovich where she puts the water in front of them and says if you think it’s clean, we brought this water from the community that was affected.’
‘I think that if the EPA administrator wants to stand here and tell people that the tap water is safe, by all means, they should be willing to drink it,’ Vance added.
In another video Vance’s office posted to Twitter, the senator visits a local creek. ‘There’s dead worms and dead fish all throughout this water,’ he says. The senator then takes a stick and scrapes the bottom of the creek and chemicals can be seen seeping to the surface.
‘This is disgusting,’ Vance says. ‘Do not forget these people. We’ve got to keep applying pressure.’
Rep. Troy Nehls, chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Material who is also in East Palestine on Thursday, called it ‘irresponsible’ for Vance to encourage residents to continue to drink bottled water even though tests showed no contamination to the tap water.
EPA administrator Michael Regan is on the ground in the Ohio-Pennsylvania border town on Thursday speaking with locals, surveying the scene and addressing the public
: A general view of the site where toxic chemicals were spilled following a train derailment, in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 15
On Thursday Ohio’s Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown added his voice to the calls on Gov. Mike DeWine to make a disaster declaration to allow the state to request federal aid in the cleanup process.
‘A man-made disaster of this scale, scope, and significance necessitates a response and deployment of resources that are commensurate in scale and scope,’ Brown wrote to DeWine.
But a spokesman for the GOP governor said he has already contacted Federal Emergency Management Agency about the potential disaster declaration and been told the derailment doesn’t qualify because Norfolk Souther is responsible for the damages, not taxpayers – unlike in the case of earthquakes and tornadoes.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said any local resident who is unsure about their air or water quality can get them tested at Norfolk Southern’s expense.
Vance, who did not sign on to Brown’s call for a disaster declaration, said: ‘Norfolk Southern needs to pay up for this right now, not the American taxpayer.’
On Wednesday Buttigieg pushed back against claims his department was not helping enough with the fiery derailment that forced some 5,000 from their homes in a thread on Twitter.
The 41-year-old former mayor pointed specifically to an electronic brake rule the Trump administration repealed and his own Transportation Department has made no effort to bring back.
‘We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe,’ Buttigieg wrote on Twitter.
He took heat earlier in the week for giving a public address on infrastructure and making no mention of East Palestine.
The Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3 spilling various chemicals including vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical used to produce plastics.
Officials evacuated some 5,000 residents in the town and did a controlled burn of the chemicals but allowed them back days later.
State officials insist the air and water are safe after testing.
But local residents have shared concerns about the Ohio River, which provides drinking water for millions of people.
Some 3,500 fish have turned up dead in the area.
And though the Trump administration did roll back a regulation requiring modern braking systems on some trains, the Obama administration had already hollowed out that rule so much so that the modern braking systems would not have been required on the train that derailed in East Palestine.
The 2015 Obama-era rule required trains carrying crude oil and some other chemicals to use electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes but left out many other hazardous chemicals after industry pressure.
Then in 2017 Trump’s Transportation Department under Sec. Elaine Chao rolled back the ECP brake rule even further.
The Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said at the time that the safety benefits ‘do not exceed the associated costs’ and were not ‘economically justified.’
Norfolk Southern, the company that owned the train that veered off-track in East Palestine, previously touted the technology as having the ‘potential to reduce train stopping distances by as much as 60 percent over conventional air brake systems.’
But ultimately it lobbied for the rule’s repeal, telling regulators it would ‘impose tremendous costs without providing offsetting safety benefits.’
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