Ohio Residents Say It's 'Absurd' to Blame Donald Trump for Train Derailment

Residents of East Palestine, Ohio have said it's "absurd" and "ridiculous" to blame Donald Trump for a train derailment in their town that precipitated a toxic spill, after the Secretary of Transportation appeared to insinuate the former president's administration had contributed to the incident.

Thirty-eight of the train's 150 cars went off the tracks, causing a large fire. Twenty cars contained toxic chemicals, of which 11 were derailed. Fearing a massive explosion, emergency responders undertook a controlled burn of vinyl chloride—releasing hydrogen chloride and phosgene, both toxic gases, into the air.

Since the spill, the Environmental Protection Agency detected several toxic substances in the soil and nearby waterways, including the Ohio River.

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement that it was conducting an investigation into the probable cause of the derailment, but suggested that a wheel bearing may have failed on one of the cars.

East Palestine ohio train derailment Donald Trump
Norfolk Southern contractors remove a burned tank car from the crash site near East Palestine, Ohio, after the fire was extinguished and, inset, former U.S. President Donald Trump in New Hampshire on January 28, 2023. Residents of East Palestine have said it's "absurd" and "ridiculous" to blame Donald Trump for a train derailment in their town. EPA/Getty Images/Scott Eisen

The NTSB noted that "investigators have identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment" and said that CCTV footage "showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment."

The same day, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted: "We're constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe."

According to the Washington D.C.-based think tank, Eno Center for Transportation, the Department for Transportation announced in December 2017—the first year Trump was in office—that a regulation requiring trains carrying flammable liquids to use electronically controlled pneumatic brakes had been dropped "on the grounds that the safety benefits were inconclusive and the cost-benefit analysis was negative."

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found the rule would cost $36-46 million a year and the benefits of the rule would be only $14-27 million a year. However, it said in a report that the change "would reduce both the chance of a derailment and the impact of a derailment should one occur."

Asked by presenter Sara Carter on Fox News about the claim Trump was partially to blame for the derailment, one East Palestine resident commented: "That's ridiculous. How can you blame Trump for what's happening here? It's nobody's fault but Norfolk Southern."

Norfolk Southern, the railway operator, has funded contractors to facilitate the clean-up and monitoring of levels of toxicity in the environment, but backed out of a town hall meeting on Wednesday about the crash over fears of a "physical threat."

"We are committed to East Palestine today and in the future," said Alan Shaw, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern President, in a statement given to Newsweek. "We will be judged by our actions. We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment, and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive."

"It's absurd," another resident told the presenter. "Only Pistol Pete could be that absurd." Meanwhile, a third resident said: "Trump hasn't been there [in the White House] for three years. How can you blame somebody who hasn't been on the switch for three years?"

Pete Buttigieg transport
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg gives a speech on the Hudson River tunnel project at the West Side Yard on January 31, 2023, in New York City. He faced criticism from members of his own party for waiting 11 days to comment on the Ohio train derailment. Getty Images/Michael M. Santiago

When asked to comment, a Department for Transportation spokesperson said: "The residents of East Palestine deserve accurate information and it's unfortunate to see certain media outlets trying to cause misplaced outrage in an ongoing and serious investigation."

"The Secretary's earlier statement clarifies a question some people have had about a rule that was rescinded under the Trump administration, which, importantly, would not have applied to the train in question," they added. "DOT had investigators on the ground within hours after the crash and continues to support the NTSB."

Buttigieg faced criticism from both sides of the aisle for a perceived lack of response to the toxic spill before he commented publicly.

"He jokes about balloons while ignoring East Palestine, OH," tweeted progressive Democrat Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and congressional candidate. "We deserve better than this."

"East Palestine railroad derailment will have a significant negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the residents for decades, Ilhan Omar, Democrat representative for Minnesota, tweeted on Monday. "We need Congressional inquiry and direct action from Pete Buttigieg to address this tragedy."

Meanwhile, Florida GOP congresswoman Anna Paulina Luna wrote: "Time to call Pete Buttigieg in for questioning about what is happening to the great people of Palestine, Ohio after the horrific train derailment and planned toxic chemical spill!"

On Tuesday, Buttigieg broke his silence on the derailment, saying: "I continue to be concerned about the impacts of the February 3 train derailment near East Palestine, OH, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own. It's important that families have access to useful and accurate information."

Update 02/16/23, 10:42 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comment from Norfolk Southern and the Department for Transportation.

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