Many Americans have moved on from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment that spilled tons of toxic chemicals on this small American town. For the roughly 4,800 residents, most do not have that option. Instead, they are left to deal with the lingering consequences of contaminated soil and water systems; problems exacerbated by the early absence of Team Biden. It took two weeks for any senior leadership to actually show up.
In the face of criticism for failing to show up, Team Biden told the American people that they were nonetheless present and in control from the start. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg even noted his initial three-week absence was purposeful so he wouldn’t get in the way while affirming that the Department of Transportation’s Federal Rail Administration and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials teams “were onsite within hours of the initial incident.” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan tweeted “From Day 1, @EPAGreatLakes has been onsite and supporting local and state partners as they lead on-the-ground response efforts following the East Palestine train derailment.”
While the spill itself was significant, the giant plume of toxic smoke resulting from a controlled burn ultimately created the greater threat. Recall, the train itself was about 150 rail cars that included a mixture of 30 cars carrying hazardous materials and 120 carrying non-hazardous materials. Of the three dozen rail cars that derailed, 11 were hazardous carrying vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, and isobutylene. These industrial chemicals are key ingredients to modern amenities but pose serious threats to human health if directly exposed.
Three days after the derailment, emergency responders, which according to Team Biden included DOT and EPA, conducted a controlled burn whereby they lit roughly 116,000 gallons of the chemicals on fire. This action is typically taken to minimize potential harm, especially when dealing with combustible materials. But now that some are suggesting the controlled burn was a mistake, Team Biden is attempting to wash its hands of it. The EPA confirmed to numerous outlets that they were “not consulted on and did not sign off on” the decision and instead is casting full blame on Norfolk Southern. The train company maintains that the EPA was a part of the final decision noting it was done “after discussions and consultations with Governor DeWine, Governor Shapiro, Ohio state agencies, Pennsylvania state agencies, US EPA, us, and of course those local first responders.”.
Either way, the agency’s actions have gone from bad to worse. Their initial attempts to dismiss the gravity of the disaster have now turned into full-on abandonment as the bureaucracy engages in a CYA exercise. It is a disgusting disregard for a serious job and will only further degrade public trust in an important institution.
Environmental response and protection should be available to all Americans regardless of zip code or political affiliation. If in the process the agency makes a mistake, it should focus on fixing the problem, instead of casting blame.