Ohio train derailment adds to Buttigieg’s growing list of slow responses, after he waited 10 days to address

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg waited 10 days to address the ongoing environmental disaster in Ohio that forced thousands of people out of their homes, adding to a growing list of examples of the former mayor being slow to act. A Norfolk Southern freight train hauling vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals derailed Feb. 3, sending up a toxic plume that burned for days in East Palestine, Ohio, which sits near the border to Pennsylvania. Three days after the derailment, authorities decided to burn off the toxic gases to avoid an explosion, sending hydrogen chloride and phosgene, a toxic chemical used as a weapon in World War I, into the air.  The surrounding areas of the derailment were evacuated but allowed to return to their homes on Feb. 9. While the Biden administration and state officials are reassuring residents that the air and water is safe, some are sounding the alarm about the potential long-term impacts to the area. Buttigieg failed to mention the derailment in a speech at the National Association of Counties conference on Monday, sparking a wave of backlash from both sides of the political aisle. BUTTIGIEG’S POPULARITY SOARS AS LOCAL LEADERS JOCKEY FOR $211 BILLION IN INFRASTRUCTURE CASH Buttigieg discussed topics like racial disparity, transportation safety, and the largely Democrat-backed infrastructure bill during the event, but he didn’t tweet until later Monday evening, 10 days after the derailment, that he is “concerned about the impacts” of the disaster. “USDOT has been supporting the investigation led by The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),” Buttigieg tweeted, in part. “We will look to these investigation results & based on them, use all relevant authorities to ensure accountability and continue to support safety.” Commentators across Twitter slammed the Transportation secretary for prioritizing his speech over what some have compared to the nuclear Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in the USSR. “People are being poisoned because of a toxic train derailment in Ohio and the Secretary of transportation has absolutely nothing to say about it!” former “The View” cohost Meghan McCain tweeted. “He jokes about balloons while ignoring East Palestine, OH,” former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, a Democrat, tweeted. “We deserve better than this.” Buttigieg was most recently slammed on both sides of the aisle for his response to the ongoing airline meltdown that continues to leave travelers stranded and delayed in U.S. airports. In August, a bipartisan group of 38 state attorneys general wrote to Congress to report that Buttigieg was failing to adequately respond to airline consumer complaints, and they asked for legislation to allow states to enforce federal consumer protection laws. “Americans are justifiably frustrated that federal government agencies charged with overseeing airline consumer protection are unable or unwilling to hold the airline industry accountable and to swiftly investigate complaints submitted to the US DOT,” read the letter signed by Arizona’s Mark Brnovic, New York’s Letitia James and others. SOUTHWEST MELTDOWN: BUTTIGIEG SAID IN SEPTEMBER AIRLINE ISSUES WOULD ‘GET BETTER’ BY HOLIDAYS During a September appearance on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” Buttigieg responded to the crisis by saying he was increasing pressure on U.S. airlines. “I think it’s gonna get better by the holidays,” he said at the time. But it didn’t get better. Southwest Airlines canceled and delayed thousands of flights in late December, leaving thousands of travelers stranded over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., slammed Buttigieg in a tweet saying the “mess with Southwest could have been avoided.” In the late hours of Jan. 10, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) experienced a massive system failure, which resulted in thousands of canceled and delayed flights.  Buttigieg didn’t address the issue until several hours later, tweeting that the FAA was “working to resolve this issue swiftly.” BUTTIGIEG RESPONDS TO CRITICISM OVER RACIST ROADS COMMENT: ‘THE POINT IS NOT TO MAKE AMERICA FEEL GUILTY’ One week later, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told reporters that there are “systemic challenges that are going to limit the growth in flights,” and that airlines are going to continue to book flights they can’t reasonably handle. “What happened over the holidays wasn’t a one-time event caused by the weather, and it wasn’t just at one airline,” he said. Lawmakers on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee called out Buttigieg during a hearing last week on the Southwest Airlines meltdown. Ranking member Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, slammed the Transportation secretary for not being there. “Notably absent from today’s meeting is Secretary Buttigieg,” Cruz said. “The DOT didn’t give any mea culpa to impacted travelers. The Biden DOT didn’t issue refunds, didn’t issue reimbursements, it just screwed up their flights and then proceeded to say, ‘We want to be in charge of how the airlines behave,’” Cruz said. In her opening statement, committee chairwoman Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., declared, “This sector needs a more effective policeman on the beat. They need someone over at the Department of Transportation who is going to get the job done.” Her office later claimed she was referring to DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection. Another prominent Democratic leader, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also called out Buttigieg over the airline meltdown in July and said the airlines’ treatment of customers is “simply unacceptable.” BUTTIGIEG SLAMS GOP AS ‘GOING TO WAR WITH MICKEY MOUSE’ WHILE DEMS ‘FIND SOLUTIONS’ TO INFLATION And while Buttigieg has spent much of his tenure addressing commercial delays, he has used government-managed private jets on at least 18 occasions since taking office.  The transportation secretary previously came under fire in December after it was revealed he vacationed in Porto, Portugal, while his agency and the White House were locked in tense negotiations with rail worker unions to avert a strike that could have had a dire impact on the U.S. economy.  The Department of Transportation said at the time that the vacation was a “long-planned personal trip.”  Congress eventually approved a deal backed by the White House and Buttigieg to avoid the rail strike, but four unions said the deal included insufficient paid-sick leave time. BUTTIGIEG SAYS SUPPLY CHAIN CRISIS ‘WILL CONTINUE INTO NEXT YEAR’ In 2021, Buttigieg’s tenure was plagued by the supply chain crisis, when a trucker shortage slowed transportation and ships were forced to wait off the coast of California due to onshore logjams. The crisis led to shortages of household items like toilet paper, raw materials needed for construction and critical tech components like semiconductors. The shortages in turn led to higher prices for consumers. Buttigieg, though, blamed the crisis on President Biden’s successful economic agenda during an interview in October 2021. “Demand is up,” he told CNN at the time. “Because income is up because the president has successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession.” Buttigieg also took a multi-month paternity leave during the heart of the crisis, which sparked criticism. The Department of Transportation did not respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment Tuesday. When asked in January about the crises that have happened on Buttigieg’s watch, a Transportation spokeswoman said the agency was proud of its achievements over the past two years, and she called the rest “political noise.” “It’s no surprise to see some in Washington playing politics with every crisis, even something as serious as the impacts of a global pandemic on our transportation systems,” the spokeswoman told Fox News Digital. “Faced with the most complex set of transportation crises since 9/11, Secretary Buttigieg and the administration team at this Department have and will continue to focus on getting results – like the successful resolution of a backlog of ships at our ports, ordering the toughest ever financial penalties for airlines over refund violations, securing new requirements for airlines to cover expenses for stranded passengers, and of course overseeing historic investments to improve our nation’s infrastructure.” Fox News’ Thomas Catenacci, Paul Best, Brandon Gillespie and Alexander Hall contributed to this report.
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