Pete Buttigieg 'Proud' of Ohio Train Derailment Response

Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he is "proud" of the department's response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, amid heavy criticism that he and the federal government are doing too little, too late.

During his visit to East Palestine on Thursday, Buttigieg was confronted with criticism that it took him three weeks to visit the community after a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed on February 3, prompting evacuation orders.

When asked if he has done a good job as secretary of the DOT, Buttigieg said he was "proud" of what the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has done in Ohio "since day one."

Pete Buttigieg in East Palestine, Ohio
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg delivers remarks to the press as he visited the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment on February 23, 2023, in East Palestine, Ohio. On February 3, 2023, the train carrying toxic chemicals derailed, causing an environmental disaster. Thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate after the area was placed under a state of emergency. Michael Swensen/Getty Images

"What I'm really proud of is the community that I saw here," he told reporters. "You've got federal agencies, you've got local first responders and most of all you've got a community that's been through a lot."

He added that he believes the community is "pretty frustrated with people trying to take political advantage of this situation."

"My focus is that our freight rail system gets better," he said. " And anyone who wants to take political advantage of this, I'm calling them to the table."

Former President Donald Trump was in Ohio on Wednesday to show his support for the community.

Trump, who is running for president again in 2024, blasted President Joe Biden and FEMA for their delayed response to the disaster, claiming that FEMA "changed their tune" about sending aid to East Palestine after he announced his trip last week.

"I sincerely hope that when your representatives and all of the politicians get here, including Biden, they get back from touring Ukraine, that he's got some money left over," he said.

Buttigieg was asked if he would be in East Palestine if Trump didn't visit the town a day earlier.

"The timing of my visit is based on trying to be here with the community but also trying to not be in the way of NTSB [the National Transportation Safety Board]," he said. "Maybe I got that timing right, maybe not. But the most important thing for me right now is that it doesn't wind up allowing people to change the subject and block needed rail regulations."

When pressed about not going to East Palestine sooner, Buttigieg said he "followed the norm" by staying out of NTSB's way, noting that DOT is in the "policy phase" of its response.

He was also asked whether he would resign, to which Buttigieg replied that he is "not here for politics."

"I'm here for the work, not for the politics," he said during a press briefing, adding that there has been "misinformation injected into this situation."

Buttigieg has written on Twitter several times since the derailment that DOT will seek accountability from the railway industry. This trip, however, is the first from a top Biden administration official to the town.

DOT put out a three-pronged plan to hold the freight rail industry accountable and improve safety as the investigation into the train derailment continues.

The White House has also outlined its multiagency effort to support the East Palestine community and hold Norfolk Southern accountable.

Buttigieg slammed Republicans lawmakers who have criticized his performance but have worked with railway industry lobbyists, and he called on Trump to "express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch."

Newsweek reached out to the NTSB and FMCSA for comment.