White House Blames Republicans, Former Trump Officials for Toxic Chemical Spill in Ohio

White House Blames Republicans, Former Trump Officials for Toxic Chemical Spill in Ohio
White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates (R) speaks as Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young (C) and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse (L) listen during a press briefing in the Brady Room of the White House on March 28, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
Frank Fang

The White House criticized Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration on Wednesday, claiming they should be to blame for the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

The criticism came on the same day as former President Donald Trump visited the derailment site, during which he called out the Biden administration for its slow response.

“Congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials owe East Palestine an apology for selling them out to rail industry lobbyists when they dismantled Obama-Biden rail safety protections as well as EPA powers to rapidly contain spills,” said Andrew Bates, a deputy White House press secretary, according to a statement.

He added, “Congressional Republicans laid the groundwork for the Trump Administration to tear up requirements for more effective train brakes, and last year most House Republicans wanted to defund our ability to protect drinking water.”

Bates challenged GOP lawmakers to set things right. He also tweeted out a 2021 letter signed by 20 GOP senators, asking the Federal Railroad Administration to increase the use of automated track inspections instead of human inspections.

“There is only one way they can prove that they are finally disowning their long history of giveaways to rail industry management at the expense of communities like East Palestine: work across the aisle with us to put Obama-Biden protections back in place and go further, including with higher fines for rail pollution and properly equipping the EPA,” Bates said.

However, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy, said last week on Twitter that the brake regulation would not have prevented the Ohio derailment, since it would have applied to “high-hazard flammable trains” (HHFT) transporting 20 or more loaded tank cars. She noted that the train derailed in Ohio was an HHFT but a “mixed freight train.”
The train derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3, while traveling from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania. The train was carrying a variety of products, including highly toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous materials.
To avoid a potential explosion, Norfolk Southern, the company whose train derailed, conducted a “controlled release” of the chemicals on Feb. 6, which involved burning the chemicals and releasing fumes into the air.
Many local residents in East Palestine remain concerned about local air and water quality.


Trump met with East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway on Wednesday, a visit accompanied by Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).
The former president criticized the Biden administration, noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced to send a team to East Palestine only after announced his visit.
“When I announced that I was coming, they changed their tune,” Trump said, adding that his visit “opened up the dam” for the Biden administration to act.

“What this community needs now are not excuses and all of the other things you’ve been hearing, but answers and results, and that’s what I think you’re going to see,” he added.

Several Republicans took to Twitter to applaud Trump for deciding to visit East Palestine.

“Was great to have the president in East Palestine today,” Vance wrote. “We need to keep working to get the residents the help they need. Kudos to the mayor, the fire chief, and other local officials for performing well under impossible conditions.”

Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) thanked Trump for “continuing to show what America First looks like.”

“President Trump visits the people of East Palestine, Ohio and brings them water & supplies while Joe Biden only cares about pushing more war and US money in Ukraine,” she wrote.
Some Republicans have directed their criticism at Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is scheduled to visit East Palestine on Thursday.
“19 DAYS have passed since the catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. 19 DAYS,” Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) wrote on Twitter on Feb. 22. “In the meantime, Joe Biden jets off to Europe and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg just now gets around to planning a visit to the crash site.”
Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) wrote on Twitter that Buttigieg is “finally” visiting East Palestine.
“Once again, the Biden administration’s response to yet ANOTHER crisis is too little, too late,” Cline wrote. 
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
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