EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s been over two weeks since the Norfolk Southern train derailed and caught fire in East Palestine, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said he hasn’t been there because he doesn’t want to interfere with the investigation.
First News senior reporter Gerry Ricciutti spoke with Buttigieg about the derailment. He said he plans to visit East Palestine at some point.
“It’s important to me not to be in the way of their work, but when I come our focus will be on action. I know from my experience as mayor, there are two kinds of people who show up when there is a disaster. Fold who want to look good and folks who are ready to get something done. Our focus today is on action, on the things that we can do to hold railroad companies accountable,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg also listed actions he wants to be taken after all this. One is making railroads notify communities about hazardous materials they’re carrying. Also, upping the fines for companies that break the rules.
“The most we can fine them for per violation is in the low six figures for a multi-billion-dollar company? It doesn’t make sense,” Buttigieg said.
The secretary said he would like to see more rail inspections and safer tankers, but he would also like to see companies take these actions themselves, especially when it comes to carrying hazardous materials.
“I’m calling on the rail industry to not wait for us to go all through all of the legalities of that and begin proactively notifying states and jurisdictions when they’re coming through with this kind of material,” Buttigieg said.
While the cleanup process is overseen by the state and federal EPA, Buttigieg said he is pushing railroad executives to cover all expenses brought on by the derailment, including fire departments that lost equipment responding to the incident.
“This is an example of what I have said directly to Norfolk Southern leadership that they need to do absolutely everything it takes, both the things that are required by law and the things that are just the right thing to do,” he said.