Former president Donald Trump has remained silent over the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, as lawmakers tussle over who’s to blame for the disaster.
Mr Trump, who is running for the White House in 2024, has yet to comment on the 3rd February incident which saw around 50 rail cars of a Norfolk Southern train, some carrying hazardous materials, go careening off the tracks.
Critics have pointed to the Trump administration’s decision in 2017 to rollback an earlier Obama rule which required some freight trains to use electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes if cars were carrying flammable liquids.
Several Democrats appeared to place blame at Mr Trump’s door.
“We are concerned that the Trump administration rolled back some of the safety rules and some of the railroad safety and worker safety rules,” Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown told The Independent earlier this week. “I mean, every chance Republicans get they weaken worker safety rules, they weaken and weaken environmental rules. They weaken consumer protection rules. So we want to know if we’ve got to fix that. But that doesn’t help East Palestine now.”
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who took flack from both sides of the aisle for his perceived muted response, also tweeted: “We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe.”
Ohio Republican Congressman JD Vance then took aim at Mr Buttigieg, telling him to stop blaming the Trump administration.
“The Department of Transportation, your Department of Transportation, has things it can do,” Mr Vance said, according to The Washington Examiner. “Stop blaming Donald Trump, a guy who hasn’t been president for three years, and use the powers of the federal government to do the things necessary to help people in this community.”
The Department for Transportation (DOT) spokesperson later clarified Sec. Buttigieg’s comment.
A spokesperson told Newsweek: “The residents of East Palestine deserve accurate information and it’s unfortunate to see certain media outlets trying to cause misplaced outrage in an ongoing and serious investigation.”
“The Secretary’s earlier statement clarifies a question some people have had about a rule that was rescinded under the Trump administration, which, importantly, would not have applied to the train in question,” the statement added. “DOT had investigators on the ground within hours after the crash and continues to support the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board).”
East Palestine is located in Columbiana County, a longtime Republican stronghold which voted overwhelming for Mr Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Others said that words of support from the former president would be welcomed during the ordeal.
East Palestine resident Eric Cozza told The Independent that he was frustrated that President Joe Biden hadn’t sent more help -- but at the same time recognised that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine hadn’t asked for additional resources.
Mr Cozza also pointed to his Donald Trump lawn sign, which read “Trump Country,” noting that he supported the former president but was disappointed with his silence.
“He’s got the biggest platform out there and he hasn’t said a word,” Mr Cozza said.
The Independent has contacted Mr Trump‘s representatives for comment.
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