House Republicans are launching a probe of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s response to the derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, marking the latest spark to partisan tensions surrounding the incident.
In a new letter to Buttigieg on Friday, 21 Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee said they were concerned about what they described as the Department of Transportation’s “slow pace in resolving this matter.”
“This incident is an environmental and public health emergency that now threatens Americans across state lines,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “Despite the U.S. Department of Transportation’s responsibility to ensure safe and reliable transport in the United States, you ignored the catastrophe for over a week.”
“The American people deserve answers as to what caused the derailment, and DOT needs to provide an explanation for its leadership’s apathy in the face of this emergency,” they added.
The lawmakers requested documentation of when Buttigieg learned about the derailment, as well as documents related to the National Transportation Safety Board’s progress on figuring out the cause of the incident, as well as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s handling of hazardous materials spilled due to the incident.
In response, Buttigieg noted in a tweet that the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, is independent, not part of the Transportation Department.
“I am alarmed to learn that the Chair of the House Oversight Committee thinks that the NTSB is part of our Department,” he wrote.
“Still, of course, we will fully review this and respond appropriately,” he added.
The Hill has reached out to the Transportation Department for comment on the new letter.
In the wake of the derailment, Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a 2020 presidential candidate, has pointed to Trump-era actions to roll back safety regulations.
For many in Washington, the incident — which unleashed chemicals including carcinogen vinyl chloride into the area of East Palestine, Ohio — has become a political flashpoint.
Former President Trump visited the area and accused the Biden administration of “indifference and betrayal.”
Meanwhile, the White House has sought to blame Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration for loose regulations on rail and the environment.