Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg heads to East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday as the National Transportation Safety Board is expected to release initial results of its investigation into the South Norfolk train derailment transportation of dangerous substances.
The 38-car train that crashed on February 3 raised serious environmental and health concerns for area residents, who have expressed frustration at the slow response of the federal government to the crisis. While in eastern Palestine, Buttigieg will meet with residents and receive an update on the NTSB investigation.
Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Assistant Administrator Tristan Brown will join Buttigieg on the ground. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan has visited East Palestine.
“As the secretary said, he would go when appropriate and would not detract from emergency response efforts,” a Department of Transportation spokesman said Wednesday. “The secretary is leaving now that EPA has said it is exiting the emergency response phase and transitioning to the long-term remedial phase. His visit also coincides with the release of the factual findings of the NTSB investigation into the cause of the derailment. and will allow the secretary to hear from USDOT investigators who were on the ground within hours of the derailment to support the NTSB investigation.”
In an interview with CBS News on TuesdayButtigieg said he did not visit eastern Palestine before because he wanted to give the NTSB and emergency workers space to do their jobs.
“I have followed the normal practice of transportation secretaries in the first few days after an accident, allowing the NTSB to lead the safety work and not get in the way,” he said. “But I am very much looking forward to having conversations with people in eastern Palestine about how this affects them.”
Buttigieg’s trip comes a day after former President Trump visited the city. Trump praised local officials for helping in “an hour of need” before criticizing the Biden administration’s response as a “betrayal”. When asked about the fact that Buttigieg had not yet traveled to East Palestine, Trump said: “I should have been here a long time ago.”
Town residents have also been calling Buttigieg or the president for a visit.
“Where is Pete Buttigieg? Where is he?” asked an aide to East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, a Republican, during a town hall on February 15, according to video taken by CBS affiliate WOIO CBS in Ohio.
“I don’t know,” Conaway replied.
In an appearance on Fox News on Monday, Conaway said that since the president has not visited eastern Palestine since the derailment, Biden’s trip to Ukraine was the “biggest slap in the face.”
Jacob Rosen contributed to this report