The White House on Wednesday blamed Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration for lax railway and environmental regulations in the aftermath of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that spilled toxic chemicals.
Andrew Bates, a deputy White House press secretary, argued congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials “owe East Palestine an apology for selling them out to rail industry lobbyists,” pointing to past efforts to loosen regulations.
“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 said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
Bates also pointed to a 2021 letter 20 Republican senators wrote to the deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, urging the agency to expand the use of automated track inspections.
The White House also noted that the Republican Study Committee, which consists of dozens of House GOP lawmakers, last year proposed cuts to government funding to address chemical spills, as well as an elimination of the Surface Water Protection Program.
Politico reported Wednesday that the Trump administration rolled back several safety measures for railways, including regular safety audits and an Obama-era rule that required faster brakes on trains carrying flammable materials.
Those measures were part of a broader agenda of deregulation under Trump, who repeatedly sought to loosen restrictions and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.
Bates’s statement going after Republicans for their record on rail safety and environmental regulations comes as the White House takes heat from GOP lawmakers over its response to the derailment in East Palestine, and on the same day former President Trump visited the town.
The Norfolk Southern train derailment spilled a number of chemicals into the area, including a carcinogen called vinyl chloride that is used to make plastic.
Officials temporarily evacuated the area, but have since said it is safe to return. Many community members, however, continue to express concerns about the air and water quality since the incident.
The EPA on Tuesday issued a legally binding order requiring Norfolk Southern to identify and clean up contaminated soil and water, reimburse the EPA for the cleaning that it is doing and attend public meetings at the agency’s request.
Biden, who traveled to Europe this week to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, spoke Tuesday with officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to visit East Palestine on Thursday.
Trump traveled to the area on Wednesday to deliver supplies and draw attention to the Biden administration’s response, including the fact that the president had not yet made the trip to Ohio to meet with members of the community.
Source: The Hill