Earlier this week, Buttigieg demurred on announcing a specific date and time for a visit, telling reporters only that he was planning to do so “when the time is right.”
On Wednesday, however, the Department of Transportation confirmed that Buttigieg would be making the trip on Thursday, Feb. 23.
“As the Secretary said, he would go when it is appropriate and wouldn’t detract from the emergency response efforts,” a department spokesperson told The Epoch Times. “The Secretary is going now that the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has said it is moving out of the emergency response phase and transitioning to the long-term remediation phase.”
At a Tuesday press conference in East Palestine, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced that he was ordering Norfolk Southern to conduct “all cleanup actions” associated with the chemical leak.
As of yet, Regan is the only Biden administration official to have set foot in the town since the crash. That detail—along with the fact that Buttigieg took 10 days to address the incident publicly—has led to an increasing amount of scrutiny over the administration’s response to the tragedy.
Despite this, the Transportation Department maintained on Wednesday that administration officials had reacted appropriately.
“The Environmental Protection Agency is leading the Federal response to hold Norfolk Southern accountable and make the company clean up its mess,” the department spokesperson noted. “That is how it works in response to a chemical spill. The Department of Transportation will continue to do its part by helping get to the bottom of what caused the derailment and implementing rail safety measures, and we hope this sudden bipartisan support for rail safety will result in meaningful changes in Congress.”
While in East Palestine, Buttigieg plans to meet with community members, receive an update on the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, and hear from the Transportation Department investigators who responded to the incident and are assisting with the investigation.
News of Buttigieg’s trip comes on the heels of former President Donald Trump’s visit to East Palestine on Wednesday, during which Trump criticized the administration’s initial reluctance to send federal aid to assist residents with their recovery efforts.
“Biden and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] said they would not send federal aid to East Palestine under any circumstance,” Trump noted at a press conference at the East Palestine Fire Department.
“When I announced that I was coming, they changed their tune,” he added.
The former president also announced that he had helped to arrange the delivery of thousands of bottles of water and cleaning supplies for residents as they continue in the recovery process.
On Feb. 14, Buttigieg suggested—to much backlash—that the Trump administration was at fault for the wreck, noting, “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.”
On Tuesday, Buttigieg also called for greater regulation of the rail industry, promoting a three-part plan for rail safety that would involve new inspection technologies, safer tank cars, and advanced notice to emergency response teams when rail cars are transporting hazardous gas through their state.
“Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people,” Buttigieg said. “We at [the agency] are doing everything in our power to improve rail safety, and we insist that the rail industry do the same—while inviting Congress to work with us to raise the bar.”
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