What’s happening: Earlier this month, an Ohio train carrying thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals derailed and caught fire in the town of East Palestine. The mismanaged response to the incident led to the mass evacuation of the surrounding area and the release of chemical gas into the atmosphere. Because the catastrophe has widespread effects (the contaminated Ohio River provides water to six states), Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has the authority to oversee its management.
Mismanaged response: While the response to the incident is under Buttigieg’s jurisdiction, he did not address the still-ongoing environmental catastrophe until 10 days after it began. He blamed Trump-era policies, promised to “ensure accountability,” and stressed that there is little he could do. Buttigieg refused to mention the disaster in a speech he gave on Monday, instead focusing on the “overabundance” of white workers in the construction industry.
Not an isolated incident: Buttigieg's mismanaged response to the Ohio train derailment isn’t out of character.
- Last year, he failed to address the transportation crisis that continues to disrupt U.S. air travel.
- In December 2022, as threats of a massive strike by rail workers that could have devastated the U.S. economy brewed, Buttigieg took a taxpayer-funded private jet to vacation in Portugal.
- In the fall of 2021, when a surge in shipping demand and a shortage of workers led to over 100 shipping containers being stranded off the coast of California, Buttigieg was on an unannounced paid parental leave with his husband.
Zoom out: Although both sides of the aisle have criticized Buttigieg’s time in power, a spokeswoman from his Department of Transportation expressed the pride his staff feels in his diversity efforts and called the criticisms of his mismanagement "political noise.”