Republican lawmakers criticized Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for his response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which marks the most recent of several high-profile infrastructure disasters during his two-year tenure.
The derailment, which occurred on February 3, caused a fire that lasted several days. Officials decided to evacuate all residents within one mile of the crash and initiated a controlled burn of the chemicals to mitigate the risk of an explosion; five train cars of vinyl chloride, a carcinogen that can contaminate water supplies, was released into the atmosphere in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke that were visible in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Buttigieg appeared at the National Association of Counties Conference on Monday to discuss matters such as racial equity in the construction sector. He soon faced pressure from several Republican officials who said Buttigieg has failed to address the crisis.
“Pete Buttigieg has finally emerged today. Not a single comment about the train crash in Ohio,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) said on social media. “Instead, he bemoaned the whiteness of the construction industry. It’s a miracle that this country is able to function at all under this regime.”
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) said the official should be questioned by lawmakers, while Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) likewise claimed that Buttigieg “hasn’t said a word” on the ecological disaster more than nine days after the crash occurred. Norfolk Southern, the company responsible for the derailment, provided the EPA with a list of cars affected by the incident and the substances they were carrying; beyond vinyl chloride, toxic industrial chemicals such as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and ethylhexyl acrylate were spilled at the site.
“The recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio is nothing short of a tragedy,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) commented. “This is another transportation failure under Mayor Pete’s leadership. Where is he?”
Buttigieg has previously faced heat from commentators who assert the Biden administration hired him because of his self-identification as a homosexual rather than his expertise in infrastructure policy. The official previously took months of paid leave after he and his husband adopted twins, even as the supply chain crisis hamstrung the American economy. He also vacationed in Portugal as the specter of a nationwide rail strike loomed earlier this year and reportedly used taxpayer-funded private jets at least 18 times since assuming office, despite his support for policies that seek to address climate change on a national level.
Democratic officials also criticized Buttigieg for his alleged failure to prevent mass delays and cancellations at Southwest Airlines, which induced holiday travel difficulties for thousands of passengers, less than one month before the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights nationwide due to a system outage. Buttigieg most recently faced backlash over the Biden administration’s handling of the Chinese surveillance balloon that was allowed to traverse the entire continental United States, including missile silos and other sensitive assets.
A public records request from the Functional Government Institute last month concluded that the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, created by the White House two years ago, suffered from nonexistent leadership. The organization noted that Buttigieg’s calendars during his two-month paternity leave show no evidence that he participated in any meetings for the initiative.