Senior Biden administration officials including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sought to blame the previous Trump administration for the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, prompting the chief of the National Transportation Safety Board to refute the claims.
The derailment caused a release of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen used in the manufacturing of PVC, has reignited debates over railway safety regulations.
While senior officials in the Biden administration have blamed former President Donald Trump's deregulation efforts for the disaster, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Jennifer Homendy has refuted those claims, calling them “misinformation.”
In the aftermath of the derailment, local and state authorities evacuated all residents within one mile of the incident and initiated a controlled burn of the industrial chemicals on the train to reduce the risk of an explosion.
Massive plumes of black smoke were visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, raising concerns about the potential spread of toxicants in the surrounding areas.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates issued a statement accusing Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration of causing the disaster, stating that they “owe East Palestine an apology for selling them out to rail industry lobbyists,” the Daily Wire reported.
He also contended that Republican members of Congress “laid the groundwork for the Trump administration to tear up requirements for more effective train brakes.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who visited the impacted Ohio community one day after former President Trump, echoed Bates' claims and suggested that the Biden administration has been constrained on rail safety due to a “braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015.”
Both officials were referring to a regulation that would have required some trains to upgrade their braking systems to electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, also known as ECP brakes.
However, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, who leads the independent federal agency responsible for investigating the train disaster, has urged those who claim that the braking rule would have prevented the derailment to “stop spreading misinformation.”
According to Homendy, the rule would have only applied to “high hazard flammable trains,” whereas the vehicle that derailed in East Palestine was classified as a “mixed freight train” with too few hazardous cars to meet the threshold for the regulation.
Furthermore, she noted that the train would not have had ECP brakes “even if the rule had gone into effect.”
Despite the administration's rhetoric, federal officials have hesitated to implement braking rules, citing the high costs involved. According to a report from the Washington Post, new standards would produce costs that significantly outweigh any accrued benefits.
The Daily Wire reported:
Even beyond the issue of establishing new braking system requirements, the number of train derailments has remained relatively unchanged from approximately 1,300 annual incidents over the past decade and even declined to 1,100 annual incidents in 2020 and 2021, two and three years after the braking regulations were nixed, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Criticism has mounted against the Biden administration for a perceived lack of attention to the crisis.
As reported by Rebel News, Buttigieg did not publicly acknowledge the incident until February 13, more than a week after the derailment occurred, and only visited the site on February 23.
President Joe Biden has also come under fire for his failure to visit East Palestine. He made a trip to Ukraine on Monday to express solidarity with the nation's war effort against Russia.