(CNSNews.com) – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC’s “The Reidout” on Thursday that it was “ironic” that former President Donald Trump visited the scene of the train derailment in East Palestinian, Ohio, accusing him of watering down regulations and weakening the Biden administration’s power to deal with freight train companies.
“It was definitely an ironic thing to do. You take down regulations. You water down regulations, you weaken the power of the administration to deal with freight railroad companies, and then you show up wanting to be a great friend of the people who have been impacted by a rail disaster,” he said.
“You know, this is somebody who as far as I know never went to a derailment site when one of those happens on his watch, and there were thousands. Even ones with fatalities. Never even sent his transportation secretary to go. Now that it’s campaign season, I guess things are different. We were there to work,” Buttigieg said.
“We were there to get things done, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to be there, because I gotta tell you, the people I spent time with in East Palestine, we didn’t talk politics. I’m sure most of them are on the other side politically, but that didn’t come up. What came up was how concerned they are for their community,” he said.
“I spent time with the mayor, spent time with folks in local government who were trying to do everything from make sure people have access to good information about health to making sure people have access to good information about water,” the secretary said.
“Keeping that water works and waste water operation going, and you know, you could sense a level of frustration with the political circus that has descended on their town, after they have already been through so much. So much fear, so much disruption, and none of it their fault,” Buttigieg said.
“None of it because of anything that they did wrong other than just the consequence of living where they live, and they deserve to be safe, and they deserve to know they’re going to be taken care of. By the way, part of what is going to make sure they’re taken care of is the work of the EPA,” he said.
“The EPA administrator has been there twice. The EPA is the agency that’s been able to make sure that Norfolk Southern is paying for the remediation. The EPA came under a lot of attack, as you know, under the last administration, but it’s another agency alongside our department of transportation and all of the other agencies that are on the ground,” the secretary said.
“I met dozens of folks on the federal side, so many folks from the state, so many local officials doing everything in their power to help this community, and what I saw was public servants from all levels of government, including levels of government that have been vilified doing everything they can to make these residents better off and residents who deserve to make sure even when the circus goes that they’re going to be taken care of,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called for Buttigieg to be fired, saying he was missing in action on the train derailment for three weeks.
“First @SecretaryPete was m.i.a. on the derailment. Then he lies to media claiming my 2021 letter calling for more track inspections was a letter calling for deregulation. He is an incompetent who is focused solely on his fantasies about his political future & needs to be fired,” the senator tweeted on Tuesday.
Buttigieg responded by claiming that Rubio had asked for the Biden administration to weaken its inspection practices.
“The facts don’t lie. The 2021 letter you signed was obviously drafted by railroad industry lobbyists. It supports waivers that would reduce visual track inspections. Now: will you vote to help us toughen rail safety accountability and fines, or not?” the secretary tweeted.
“Well, the strange thing about hearing that from Senator Rubio was that the last time I had gotten a communication from him about railroad regulation was when he had signed a letter asking us to weaken our inspection practices,” Buttigieg told MSNBC.
“So but let me say this, I mean, if anybody regardless of what they’ve done in the past, is serious about the future, Republican, Democrat, independent, if anybody has found religion on the subject of making sure that we actually regulate these corporations and hold them accountable, then I am calling them in and inviting them to the table,” he said.
“We did a lot of work from day one, doing things like restoring and enhancing safety audits which were pulled back under the last administration, resuming work on a rule that will require you to have at least two people which is common sense on these long trains, at least two. That’s a rule that was frozen under the last administration,” the secretary said.
“We resumed, but we could do so much more. Especially if Congress were there to help, and I’ll give you one example of something I would love for Senator Rubio and any other member of Congress who cares about this issue to sign on to, which is to raise the legal cap on the fines that my department is allowed to assess when there is a violation,” Buttigieg said.
“Right now, even if there’s a hazardous material violation that results in somebody getting killed, the most that we can assess against a company is about a quarter of a million dollars which you can imagine for a multi-billion dollar corporation like Norfolk Southern or the other freight railroads, that’s a drop in the bucket for them,” he said.
“That’s an easy natural common sense thing Congress could do tomorrow, is raise that cap and give us more tools to work with to hold the railroads accountable,” the secretary added.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson accused the Biden administration of neglecting the citizens of East Palestine, because the town is mostly white and conservative.
Buttigieg accused Carlson of taking it back to race, adding that the Biden administration is “going to serve everybody.”
Yeah, I don’t know where Tucker Carlson was when they were trying to dismantle the EPA, which is now maybe the main thing standing between the people of East Palestine and ecological disaster. Look, they’re always ready to take it back to race, but the reality is that we’re going to serve everybody. That’s how this administration works. We’re not out there to bring resentment.
We’re out there to bring results, and what our focus was today and our focus, by the way, from the first hours, when we had our Department of Transportation personnel on the ground, from those very first hours in this response all the way through today and well into the future, for as long as it takes, focus is to make sure that people get the information they need, the support that they need, and the accountability that is needed for corporations like Norfolk Southern to clean up this mess.
There’s a long pattern of voices like that in the ideological media – let’s call it that – trying to pit people against each other only to turn around and support policies that are especially hard on working class and low income people of every race, because one thing, you know how a broken clock is right at least twice a day.
One thing he’s exactly right about is that environmental disasters tend to happen more frequently and more painfully to lower income communities. We call that environmental justice, and yet if I use those words, I’m sure he’ll be the first one to say that we’re too woke to be paying attention to the bread and butter of our jobs.
Part of the bread and butter of our jobs is to keep people safe from being harmed or killed, which is what regulation, sometimes an unpopular word, is all about. It’s what enforcement is all about. It’s what accountability is all about. We restored some of that regulation and enforcement and accountability that was stripped away when we got here.
I know that’s going on in the EPA side. That’s definitely going on in the Department of Transportation side, and we’ll continue that as long as we have this honor of serving, because what we came here to do is protect every American, and I mean every American who comes into contact with our transportation system.
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