EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will be traveling to East Palestine on Thursday, a day after former President Donald Trump’s visit to the area.
Buttigieg plans to meet with community members affected by the Norfolk Southern train derailment. He’ll also be given an update on the ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board — which is expected to issue its initial findings on Thursday — and hear from investigators with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Buttigieg will be joined by Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Amit Bose and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown.
On Tuesday, Secretary Buttigieg issued a set of actions that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the rail industry and Congress could take immediately — without waiting for the NTSB’s report on East Palestine — to increase rail safety on the tracks that run through communities across the country. That includes allowing USDOT to give out stiffer penalties for rail safety regulations violations and reversing a delay to the rail industry’s deadline to use more robust rail cars carrying hazardous materials.
Buttigieg has also directed FRA staff to speed up work on its final rule requiring at least two crew members on trains.
Nexstar’s WKBN spoke to Buttigieg about his actions on Tuesday.
“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. Folks 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.
He also clarified why he wants to raise fines for rail companies that violate safety protocol.
“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.
Buttigieg’s scheduled visit to East Palestine also comes after he and the Biden administration had been criticized for not coming to the area sooner. The USDOT responded by saying Buttigieg purposely waited.
Buttigieg wanted to “go when it is appropriate and wouldn’t detract from the emergency response efforts,” the USDOT said in a statement obtained by The Hill.
On Friday, environmental activist Erin Brockovich will also be coming to East Palestine for a town hall event.