Biden’s Ohio Train Derailment Site Visit: Over a Year Post Toxic Disaster

Biden’s visit to site of train derailment in Ohio comes more than a year after toxic disaster

More than a year following a significant train derailment that unleashed toxic chemicals into the environment of this community, President Joe Biden finally made his visit on Friday, facing criticism for the delayed response.

In his remarks on Friday afternoon, Biden pointedly criticized Norfolk Southern for failing to take necessary precautions to prevent the derailment, branding it as an act of greed that could have been entirely avoided. He emphasized the need to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the damage caused and pledged the government’s obligation to support the affected community.

The timing of Biden’s visit coincides with the intensification of the 2024 campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump seizing the opportunity to mock Biden for his delayed visit. Trump, who visited the community shortly after the derailment, used his social media platform to criticize Biden’s belated response, labeling it as an insult to the residents of East Palestine.

Biden's Ohio Train Derailment Site Visit: Over a Year Post Toxic Disaster
Biden’s Ohio Train Derailment Site Visit: Over a Year Post Toxic Disaster (Credits: NBC News)

Biden’s visit follows Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s trip to East Palestine just a day after Trump’s visit last year. Despite previously indicating his intention to visit the area, Biden’s trip had been repeatedly postponed until it was finally announced late last month.

The purpose of Biden’s visit was to advocate for federal railway safety legislation that stalled in Congress following the derailment.

The proposed legislation aimed to enhance safety measures, improve train inspections, and impose stricter penalties on rail companies for misconduct. Although the bill swiftly passed through the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, it has since languished in Congress.

Biden reiterated his support for the legislation during his visit, emphasizing the necessity of strengthening safety protocols for trains transporting hazardous materials to prevent future disasters.

The logistical challenges of ensuring security for a presidential visit in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, particularly in rural areas with limited resources, often lead to delays.

However, some local officials criticized the Biden administration for the absence of a presidential visit soon after the derailment. The mayor of East Palestine, Trent Conaway, who endorsed Trump in the 2024 election, described Biden’s visit as “long awaited.”

The White House underscored its swift response to the disaster, highlighting the deployment of federal agencies to the area and the initiation of cleanup efforts. Biden issued executive orders holding Norfolk Southern responsible for the cleanup costs and appointing a coordinator for long-term recovery efforts.

Despite these measures, some residents remain dissatisfied with the ongoing situation. Concerns persist regarding the quality of air in their homes, although the EPA has reassured residents that monitoring data indicate no immediate health risks. The EPA’s report revealed extensive efforts to remove contaminated soil and liquid from the site of the derailment.

Community members like Timothea Deeter express hope that Biden’s visit will translate into tangible support rather than mere symbolic gestures. While acknowledging the significance of the president’s presence, they emphasize the urgent need for sustained assistance and resources from the federal government.

Daniel Winston, a former co-executive director of a local advocacy group, directs his frustration toward Congress for the legislative gridlock hindering comprehensive railway safety reforms. Despite recognizing Biden’s visit as a positive step, Winston underscores the broader systemic challenges facing communities grappling with the aftermath of such disasters.

I'm Richard Rosales, I cover political news and ongoing US elections.