Secretary of  Transportation Pete Buttigieg Faces Call to Resign following East Palestine Rail Disaster: ‘Serious and Persistent Problems’

Senator Marco Rubio demands Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg resign over his handling of the trail derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. 

A Norfolk Southern train with 50 rail cars, ten carrying vinyl chloride, derailed on February 3 in East Palestine. The derailment sent a massive plume of smoke into the air and caused hazardous chemicals to spill onto the ground.

Officials then conducted a controlled release of chemicals in a successful attempt to avoid an explosion. Although residents were evacuated before the release, they have since been allowed to return home. 

Secretary Buttigieg hasn’t visited East Palestine, but a spokesperson with the Department of Transportation said that “[Federal Railroad Administration] and [Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] staff were on the ground within hours of the derailment and the EPA Regional Administrator and EPA Administrator are visiting. [National Transportation Safety Board] is the lead investigator, and DOT is in a supporting role.”

Senator Rubio sent a letter to President Biden on Wednesday that “Secretary Buttigieg downplayed and ignored crisis after crisis” and prioritized “topics of little relevance to our nation’s transportation system.”

“At no time has that been more apparent than the past two weeks,” said Buttigieg. “Secretary Buttigieg refused to acknowledge the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable. Even after acknowledging the tragedy, he continues to deflect any accountability for the safety of our nation’s rail system. The circumstances leading up to the derailment point to a clear lack of oversight and demand engagement by our nation’s top transportation official.”

Rubio maintains that this is “part of a two-year-long pattern.”

“During historic maritime and surface transportation disruptions in 2021, Secretary Buttigieg was completely absent. Amidst an impending possible rail strike last year, Secretary Buttigieg left the country to vacation in Portuguese wine country. Near misses in commercial aviation and recent system failures, including the one that shut down air travel in Florida in January, indicate that serious and persistent problems across the DOT are not being sufficiently remedied,” said Rubio.

The senator from Florida added that he doesn’t “have confidence that Secretary Buttigieg is capable of keeping the American people safe.”

Secretary Buttigieg denies responsibility: Says Trump administration, Congress to blame

Sec. Buttigieg said the Trump administration and Congress are to blame for the train derailment. On Tuesday, he said his agency has been “constrained” by the Trump administration and stated the Department of Transportation withdrew a proposed rule that would require trains carrying some dangerous chemicals to use electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes in 2018.

At the time, the Department of Transportation said the technology’s benefits needed to be more conclusive.

“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,” tweeted Buttigieg.