Former President Donald Trump is visiting the Ohio town that was the site of a train derailment that released toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment.
According to Bloomberg, the trip is part of a strategy to capitalize on criticism of President Biden's choice to visit Ukraine before visiting the disaster area. But it's also unintentionally highlighting Trump's own failings when it came to rail safety during his presidency.
On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern Corp. train derailed and spewed hazardous chemicals into the air and ground surrounding East Palestine, Ohio, which has around 4,700 residents.
Trump's visit is casting renewed attention on his regulatory rollbacks on new braking requirements for certain trains carrying hazardous materials that were established by the Obama administration. If the Obama-era rules were allowed to stand, the Norfolk Southern train would likely have been equipped with brakes known as Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes.
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From Bloomberg: "The braking requirement, put in place in 2015 as part of a suite of new safety rules following a number of fiery high-profile crude oil train derailments, required railroads to install more responsive electronic braking systems on trains carrying hazardous materials.
“[Trump] should be embarrassed,” said Cynthia Quarterman, a former Obama official who played a major role in crafting train safety requirements.
“Regulations force people to advance technology,” she told Bloomberg, adding the brakes could have averted the disaster.
The U.S. government ordered the Norfolk Southern railroad company on Tuesday to pay the entire cost of the cleanup.
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"The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA's order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community," Regan said.
"To the people of East Palestine, EPA stands with you now and for as long as it may take," he added.
The legally binding EPA order requires Norfolk Southern to identify and clean up contaminated soil and water resources and reimburse the EPA for cleaning services to be offered to residents and businesses.
The EPA said it will approve a workplan outlining all of the steps necessary to clean up the environmental damage caused by the derailment.
"If the company fails to complete any actions as ordered by EPA, the Agency will immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost," the EPA said.
According to the authorities, tests have shown that the air is safe and no pollutants have been detected in the municipal water system.
Many residents remain concerned, however, and some have reported headaches and fears that they may develop cancer at a later date.
The Norfolk Southern train with 150 cars was shipping cargo from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, when it derailed.
The accident resulted in the derailment of 38 cars, 11 of which were carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate and other chemicals, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
With additional reporting by AFP