The House Oversight Committee has announced that it has launched an investigation into the Transportation Department’s response to the toxic train derailment disaster in East Palestine, Ohio.
Lawmakers on the Committee accuse Democrat President Joe Biden’s Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg of having “ignored the catastrophe.”
The small town and surrounding area have been devastated after a freight train carrying toxic materials derailed there earlier this month.
On Friday, the Committee’s Republican Chairman James Comer (R-KY) sent a letter to Buttigieg about the probe into the crisis.
Comer is demanding that Buttigieg and his department provide the Committee with documents and communications related to the cause of the Norfolk Southern train wreck.
The Committee wants to see evidence of when Buttigieg learned of the February 3 train wreck and any guidance he received on how to respond to it.
The Republicans also accused the department’s leadership of “apathy in the face of” the disastrous derailment.
The wreck resulted in a fiery crash of train cars carrying, among their contents, loads of carcinogenic vinyl chloride.
The incident prompted an evacuation of the area.
However, worries remain high among residents about the possibility of exposure to toxic air or contaminated water.
The majority of which were small minnows, the department revealed.
“This incident is an environmental and public health emergency that now threatens Americans across state lines,” the Oversight Committee wrote to Buttigieg.
“Despite the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) responsibility to ensure safe and reliable transport in the United States, you ignored the catastrophe for over a week.”
Read the full letter below:
Secretary Pete Buttigieg was slow to respond to the train derailment catastrophe in East Palestine, Ohio. Oversight Republicans want to know why. https://t.co/rvhfy5CbBr
— Oversight Committee (@GOPoversight) February 24, 2023
However, the agency said its investigation remains ongoing.
At present, dangerous chemicals “may still be present in the area,” the Committee wrote, noting residents “reporting dead animals, strong odors, burning sensations, rashes, and watery eyes.”
“As Secretary of Transportation, you must provide transparency to the American public on this matter,” the letter continues.
“Instead, you have attempted to blame others for infrastructure that is within DOT’s ambit of responsibilities. …
“America now faces one of transportation’s largest failures, even while DOT seems to not lack available funding.”
Buttigieg, for his part, visited East Palestine for the first time Thursday.
His trip happened one day after President Donald Trump made an appearance in the small town to meet with residents and first responders and raise awareness about the needs of the area.
Buttigieg has faced backlash and scrutiny over the incident, mainly from Republicans but also from Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
As he spoke to the media, Buttigieg attempted to frame criticisms of the Biden administration’s response to the disaster as “misinformation.”
He also made a veiled suggestion that President Trump’s visit to the small town was just “politics” that the locals are “getting pretty sick of.”
“I’m here for the work and not for the politics,” Buttigieg said.
“You can sense when you talk to local leaders and local residents that they’re getting pretty sick of the politics too and this national ideological layer that’s been added into all this when they’re just trying to figure out if they’re going to be safe.”
The extraordinary people I met in East Palestine today asked for what anyone would want in this situation – safety, support, and accountability – and not to be used for political gain. We'll keep doing the real work for as long as it takes. pic.twitter.com/cv08RkapHz
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) February 23, 2023