‘A political stunt’: Trump’s Ohio visit revives questions about his own safety legacy

Different Trump critics had been extra blunt in dismissing the motives behind his visit.

“It’s clear that it’s a political stunt,” stated former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican and former member of Congress who led DOT throughout President Barack Obama’s first time period. “If he desires to visit, he’s a citizen. However clearly his rules and the elimination of them, and no emphasis on safety, goes to be identified.”

Buttigieg took his own veiled shot at Trump — although not by identify — when answering a POLITICO reporter’s query about the stress between Trump’s rail safety document and his criticisms of the Biden administration.


“There’s a probability for everyone who has a public voice on this concern to exhibit whether or not they’re considering serving to the folks of East Palestine or utilizing the folks of East Palestine,” Buttigieg stated. “A whole lot of the parents who appear to search out political alternative there are amongst those that have sided with the rail trade repeatedly and once more as they’ve fought safety rules on railroads and [hazardous materials] tooth and nail.”

Buttigieg stated he was attempting to watch out to not violate the Hatch Act, which restricts federal staff’ political speech, by talking about a presidential candidate from his place as Cupboard secretary.

Forward of Wednesday’s look, the Democratic Nationwide Committee despatched reporters an inventory of Trump’s deregulation efforts, with the topic line: “REMINDER: Trump Slashed Transportation Safety and Environmental Guidelines, Funding.”

A spokesperson for Trump didn’t reply to a request for remark Tuesday.

Trump, who launched his newest presidentlal bid in November, said on his social media network Truth Social that he was venturing to Ohio to visit “nice individuals who need assistance, NOW!”

“If our ‘leaders’ are too afraid to really lead actual leaders will step up and fill the void,” his son Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter final week.

Amongst different criticisms, lawmakers of each events have questioned DOT’s oversight of the railroad trade’s labor and safety practices in mild of the fiery Ohio crash, which unleashed plumes of poisonous smoke and left lingering worries about air and water contamination. They’ve additionally faulted the Biden administration for not sending any senior leaders to the derailment website till EPA Administrator Michael Regan traveled there final week.

Buttigieg has not but gone there however stated he plans to, and the heads of DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration and its hazardous supplies company are anticipated to be in East Palestine on Wednesday. Biden administration officers have stated that high leaders held off from visiting the positioning to adjust to evacuation orders and to keep away from making a distraction. Nonetheless, lower-level investigators and staff from businesses such because the FRA and EPA swarmed to East Palestine inside hours after the 150-car Norfolk Southern prepare went off the observe with a cargo that included flammable chemical compounds comparable to vinyl chloride.

As a result of the catastrophe was a chemical spill, White Home officers stated, Regan was the lead company official tasked with responding. Regan’s company has confronted skepticism from residents about its assurances that East Palestine’s air is protected to breathe, regardless of a lingering odor that has left residents within the village complaining about rashes and headaches.

Buttigieg instructed reporters Monday that he plans to go to the positioning “when the time is correct.”

“I’m very considering attending to know the residents of East Palestine and listening to from them about how they’ve been impacted and speaking with them about the steps that we had been taking,” he stated.

Even some much less partisan observers have questioned why the Biden administration didn’t ship a high-profile official sooner to indicate its help for folks in East Palestine.


“There’s an incredible worth when a disaster happens of a high-ranking official taking cost,” William Reilly, who led EPA through the George H.W. Bush administration, instructed POLITICO’s E&E Information for a narrative Tuesday. He stated the aim of these visits can embody “speaking to the regionally impacted folks and to the nation. The communication half is enormously vital. And that didn’t occur right here.”

Native and state political leaders stated they welcome high-level consideration — to a degree. They embody East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, a registered Republican who on Monday had known as President Joe Biden’s resolution to visit Ukraine earlier than coming to his Ohio village “the biggest slap in the face.”

At a information convention Tuesday, Conaway stated Trump is welcome to visit however that he doesn’t need the village to grow to be “political pawns.”

“We don’t wish to be a soundbite or a information chunk,” Conaway stated. “We simply wish to return to dwelling our lives the best way they had been.”

A spokesperson for Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Daniel Tierney, declined to remark when requested whether or not Trump is welcome in East Palestine.

One senior administration official, granted anonymity to talk freely as a result of he was not licensed to speak to the media, stated Biden’s appointees are “supporting folks in East Palestine” whereas Trump and different Republicans “see the folks there as political props.”

“Trump’s visit validates that that is all about politics for him and Republicans who’ve been fast to criticize and bizarrely blame Secretary Pete but are the identical individuals who have finished Norfolk Southern’s bidding on rolling again main safety necessities,” stated the official. “Trump greater than anybody.”

Watering down rail regs

As president, Trump made rescinding rules a significant precedence for his businesses, even signing an order requiring them to revoke two guidelines for each one they enact. On the similar time, he stated he needed to “be sure that America has among the many very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet.”

His administration’s most high-profile motion on rail safety was its withdrawal of a 2015 rule mandating extra superior brakes on some trains carrying particularly hazardous supplies.

That withdrawal, nonetheless, stemmed from intervention by Congress, which required regulators to place the rule by way of a extra stringent cost-benefit evaluation after the Obama administration had issued the regulation. The rule in the end failed that evaluation.

Even when that rule had taken impact, it could not have utilized to the prepare that derailed in East Palestine, the chair of the Nationwide Transportation Safety Board — the lead company investigating the crash — wrote on Twitter final week. Nonetheless, environmental teams pressed Buttigieg last week to revive the Obama-era brake rule, writing that “[i]t shouldn’t take a tragedy just like the current hazardous prepare derailment in Ohio … to show consideration to this concern once more.”

Trump’s DOT additionally took a number of rulemaking actions sought by railroad corporations that would weaken safety, together with its withdrawal of a rule requiring that a crew of at least two people be current on freight trains. The Obama administration had proposed that rule in response to a fiery oil-train derailment that killed 47 folks in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013.

The Trump administration argued that “a prepare crew staffing rule would unnecessarily impede the way forward for rail innovation and automation.”

Railroad corporations say no factual justification exists for mandating crews of a couple of individual. Such a requirement, they argue, would make U.S. railroads much less aggressive and will even undermine local weather efforts if it makes shippers flip to trucking, which emits extra air pollution than trains do.

The Norfolk Southern prepare that derailed in Ohio had three crew members aboard. After the derailment, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) requested in a letter to Buttigieg whether or not that was too few people to control such a long train.

The Trump administration additionally dropped a ban on shipping liquefied natural gas by rail tank automobile, saying the growth of U.S. pure gasoline manufacturing necessitated the rollback. The ban had been a response to issues about attainable explosions.

As well as, Trump’s Federal Railroad Administration stopped conducting common rail safety audits of railroads — which the Biden administration later reinstituted — and allowed railroads to exchange some human safety inspections with automation.

Below Trump, “railroads may apply for reduction from federal rules, and FRA would grant them,” stated Gregory Hynes, the nationwide legislative director of the nation’s largest rail union, SMART Transportation Division.

“It’s actually surprising what they’ve been capable of get away with,” he stated.

On chemical compounds, a rollback of ‘nearly the whole lot’

Advocates of more durable rules on poisonous chemical compounds expressed simply as a lot frustration.

Below Trump, “there was a rollback of, , nearly the whole lot,” stated Sonya Lunder, the Sierra Membership’s senior toxics adviser.

Trump’s EPA repealed rules supposed to forestall chemical accidents at industrial services and rolled again necessities for corporations to often assess whether or not safer applied sciences or practices have grow to be accessible. It additionally withdrew necessities that corporations have third-party audits to find out the foundation causes of accidents.

The Biden administration final 12 months proposed reinstating all these necessities.

Public well being advocates additionally criticized the Trump administration’s implementation of the Poisonous Substances Management Act, a longstanding regulation that Congress gave a bipartisan overhaul in 2016.

Advocates say the regulation was designed to require EPA to take a look at the general well being risks of chemical compounds, however the Trump administration took steps to take a look at dangers in solely a piecemeal style. For example, it declined to consider chemical compounds Individuals breathe from the air or drink of their water, limiting analyses to solely direct publicity from merchandise or makes use of. The Biden administration has reversed that coverage and reconsidered some chemical compounds’ dangers, with potential restrictions or bans on the best way.

A federal court docket in 2019 faulted the Trump-era EPA for avoiding learning sure well being dangers of some chemical compounds like asbestos.

Trump’s political appointees additionally overruled profession scientists on a well being evaluation for a sort of PFAS, or so-called “endlessly chemical compounds,” that contaminates nearly one million Individuals’ consuming water and tried to bury inner reviews that warned of unsafe chemical compounds within the air and water.

As well as, Trump proposed shuttering the Chemical Safety Board, a tiny company that investigates accidents at industrial services however has no regulatory or enforcement energy.

These rollbacks had been carried out by a number of political appointees with trade ties. These included Nancy Beck, a former professional for the commerce group American Chemistry Council, who turned the highest political appointee in EPA’s chemical workplace and restricted the company’s research of hazardous chemical compounds. Trump later tried to nominate Beck to the Client Product Safety Fee, however her nomination stalled within the Senate.

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