House Republicans are launching an investigation into Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s response to the train derailment disaster in East Palestine, Ohio.
The Committee on Oversight and Accountability sent a letter to Buttigieg on Friday detailing their concerns and demanding an explanation for the Department of Transportation’s “leadership’s apathy in the face of this emergency.”
“The Committee on Oversight and Accountability is investigating the ongoing crisis that began on February 3, 2023, in East Palestine, Ohio,” the letter began. “A Norfolk Southern freight train’s derailment and the ensuing response released highly toxic chemical materials into the air, water, and soil—forcing residents of East Palestine to evacuate.”
Buttigieg did not visit East Palestine until 20 days after the derailment. Brandon has not announced any plans or intention to visit.
“This incident is an environmental and public health emergency that now threatens Americans across state lines,” the letter continued. “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. The American people deserve answers as to what caused the derailment, and DOT needs to provide an explanation for its leadership’s apathy in the face of this emergency. We request documents and information regarding DOT’s response to the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment and ensuing environmental and public health emergency.”
The lawmakers noted that the fallout from the hazardous materials being leaked and burned “continues to develop” and that “the infrastructure failure that caused the derailment has led to an environmental disaster.”
“After the derailment, crews held a controlled release and burn of the toxic chemicals—including the explosive and carcinogenic vinyl chloride —carried in the railcars,” the letter read. “The controlled burn created a massive smoke plume above East Palestine for several hours. Alarmingly, some of these chemicals may still be present in the area, with residents reporting dead animals, strong odors, burning sensations, rashes, and watery eyes. One hazardous materials specialist explained, ‘We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.’”
The letter explained that as Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg must provide the American people with transparency. Instead, the lawmakers asserted, he has attempted to blame others for infrastructure issues that are DOT’s responsibility.
“Under your leadership, DOT supported President Brandon’s Infrastructure Bill, which included billions of dollars devoted to revamping America’s railways in an effort to make them safer and more efficient,” the letter says. “Yet America now faces one of transportation’s largest failures, even while DOT seems to not lack available funding. In America, over 1,000 trains derail every year.”
“The Committee is deeply concerned by DOT’s slow pace in resolving this matter,” they wrote.
The committee then requested a slew of documents and materials related to his response, which they require to be turned in by March 10.
The letter was signed by 21 Republicans who are on the committee.