Regardless of Biden visit, Buttigieg says East Palestine cleanup top priority

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (NewsNation) —U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said the Biden administration is not “walking away” from the people of East Palestine and vowed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be there for as long as they “need support.”

Buttigieg told NewsNation in an interview that, aside from the cleanup after the February Norfolk Southern derailment and subsequent chemical burn, one of his top priorities is making sure residents don’t feel forgotten.

“The commitment is there from this (the Biden) administration,” he said. “This administration was on the ground within hours of the derailment and will not be walking away from this community in the years or the decades to come for as long as they need support.”

Buttigieg said residents have told him that they don’t want to be “defined” by the accident. Members of the community, however, remain skeptical about the quality of their water and what other potential hazards could follow in years to come.

President Joe Biden has faced criticism from some Republican lawmakers for not personally visiting East Palestine. He told reporters in early March that he planned to visit the community “at some point” but has yet to do so.

Buttigieg, however, maintains the federal government’s work in East Palestine continues.

“The EPA is holding Norfolk Southern accountable for the costs of the cleanup and making sure that there is testing of air of soil and of water,” he said.

As for the Transportation Department, Buttigieg told NewsNation they’re working to prevent further derailments.

“Some things we already know; include the fact that more use of a technology called a wayside defect detector. This is basically a piece of equipment that sits on the side of the railroad track and can tell if a wheel is overheating,” he said.

It’s a device Buttigieg believes should be more widely used.

“In order to get to the next level, we’re going to need legislation,” he said. “And that’s why we are strongly supporting the Railway Safety Act that is moving through Congress right now.”


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