President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit East Palestine, Ohio, next month to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a catastrophic train derailment and the subsequent spill of toxic chemicals in the region.
While the White House has not specified the exact date of the visit, it is a significant development fulfilling Biden’s longstanding commitment to visiting the small town in eastern Ohio.
The incident occurred on February 3, 2023, when a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed, triggering a prolonged fire that emitted poisonous fumes and necessitated the evacuation of residents from their homes.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced that Biden received an invitation from East Palestine mayors and community leaders to assess the ongoing recovery efforts. Jean-Pierre stated during a press briefing, “He’s looking forward to going to East Palestine in February.
We’re going to find the day that works best for the folks on the ground. He’s always said that, when the time was right, when it was the most helpful for him to be there, he was going to be there.”
In response to the disaster, President Biden took several measures to aid in East Palestine’s recovery. He directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to appoint a coordinator to oversee the town’s long-term recovery efforts.
Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was tasked with evaluating whether Norfolk Southern fulfilled its commitment to addressing any lingering threats to the town stemming from the derailment. The Transportation Department also allocated millions in rail safety grants and increased inspections.
The administration faced criticism for the initial delay in President Biden’s visit to East Palestine following the derailment.
Biden has visited other disaster sites across the country in the interim. When questioned about the delay in September, he cited not having “the occasion to go to East Palestine” and has been occupied with various foreign crises, including the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and more recently, the death of service members in Jordan, contributing to escalating tensions in the Middle East.
Comparatively, former President Donald Trump visited a firehouse near the derailment site approximately 19 days after the incident, referring to it as a “betrayal” of the residents.
His visit occurred one day before Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s arrival and weeks after EPA Administrator Michael Regan was dispatched to the site. Trump’s visit drew attention to the Department of Transportation’s role, which oversaw the shelving of two rules aimed at bolstering train brake and crew safety.