People in East Palestine, Ohio, just want help, truth and accountability after a freight train derailed choking their city in a toxic cloud and scaring them into drinking alcohol.
"I don't feel safe because I don't know what the future holds for my city," East Palestine resident Jessica Konard told CNN City Hall on Wednesday night. His comments reflect residents' perceived and widespread distrust of federal and state assertions that the air and water are safe.
"It can really destroy a small city like ours," Cunard added.
An extensive cleanup is underway, authorities are checking local water systems, wells, streams and streams, and several investigations have begun.
But these Ohioans, in the midst of the environmental crisis that suddenly appeared on their doorstep on February 3, are also early political additions to Republican White House candidates, such as former President Donald Trump.
As disaster strikes a divided America, toxic politics become imminent, and disasters such as hurricanes, industrial accidents, and traffic accidents are accompanied by a political map used by adversaries to harm those in power.
Republicans are using the derailment to say that while President Joe Biden is spending billions on the Ukrainians he visited on a daring trip to Kiev this week, he is neglecting Americans in need at home.
"You won't forget," Trump said after a trip to East Palestine on Wednesday — while he lacks the strength of his former office, he has more room to accelerate his sluggish campaign through 2024 just to fix the debacle.
The train derailment poses a new danger for rising Democratic star Pete Buttigieg. The former Democratic presidential candidate's role as Secretary of Transportation provides a valuable platform for potential future campaigns. But he also risks political turmoil when something goes wrong with America's disaster-prone infrastructure. Buttigieg, who is leaving for Ohio Thursday, admits he could have talked about East Palestine earlier and promises to learn his lesson. He will now travel there on the same day that the National Transportation Safety Board's initial report on the causes of the accident was released.
Republicans feel weak. "He's incompetent, focused only on his fantasies about his political future, and he should be fired," said the Florida senator. Marco Rubio tweeted, who, like Buttigieg, may run again for the White House in the future.
The Ohio disaster also gives the public a glimpse of a rare duel in Washington between regulators and transportation companies so critical to the safety of Americans as massive trains — some as long as 150 cars and some laden with toxic chemicals — crisscross cities and towns. Trump may now present himself as the savior, but he has overseen the reduction of environment and safety regulations in office. Meanwhile, major carriers are paying lobbyists millions of dollars to relax safety rules and cut staff while seeking to maximize profits by rewarding shareholders and saving money on safety.
Still, the fallout from the collapse is likely to open up unusual alliances in Washington. For example, conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and progressive Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are calling for reforms. But in Washington, bipartisan business expectations after a disaster often wane with time.
Given the apparent political hypocrisy, the sometimes massive government response machinery to disasters, and the complex levels of accountability at the federal, state, and local levels, it is no wonder residents are wondering if they are being heard.
Their fears are only compounded by the fact that dangerous smoke from their homes comes on the heels of the arson of a number of truckloads of chemicals, ordered by the authorities to prevent an even worse catastrophe – a massive explosion.
Residents of the city of 5,000 complained of illnesses including rashes, sore throats, nosebleeds and other ailments, and thousands of dead fish were found in the streams. Residents want faster action from state and federal leaders, question government guarantees that their waters are safe, and feel overwhelmed by the Norfolk Southern, the multibillion-dollar railroad responsible for the train derailment.
The reaction, which some considered lukewarm, intensified. The Biden administration is now forcing Norfolk Southern to pay for the cleanup and reimbursing the government for its costs.
However, many citizens distrust officials who tell them they are not in danger and stir up their feelings against what they are told.
Asking one person for help is another person's political revelation.
Trump may have consoled the locals who voted overwhelmingly for him during his visit on Wednesday, but it was still a partisan political game.
“I sincerely hope that when your representatives and all the politicians come here, including Biden, and come back from their trip to Ukraine, they will have money left,” Trump said in East Palestine, the capital, when he won. tags. The percentage of votes against the incumbent in the 2020 election
"We are with you, we pray for you, and we will stay with you," Trump said, though he was unable to direct the government's response. However, his attacks on Biden underline the "America First" motto.
In response, Biden tweeted about the disaster while in Europe, blaming his predecessor's administration for lax rail security and telling locals, "We've got you covered."
Trump pledged bottled water at his hotels and bought firefighter burgers at a local McDonald's as he accepted the risks of a post-disaster presidential visit to boost his political image. He boasted that during his presidency he had deployed the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is currently operating in eastern Palestine. However, he did not mention his criticism of natural disasters after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 or during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump dodged a question about his role in relaxing safety standards after he rescinded an Obama administration rule that required freight rail lines to use electronically controlled air brakes on some trains carrying dangerous and flammable freight. This measure would not have stopped the catastrophe in eastern Palestine, where the derailed train did not have enough of these wagons to enforce the rule if it was still in force. But critics say Trump's curtailment and outright repeal of the rules have made the railroads and Americans less safe.
Current and potential Republican presidential candidates have fled to catch up with Trump. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked if Biden should be "with these guys in Ohio." Haley's attack seemed inconsistent with his promise to get tougher than Biden on Russian President Vladimir Putin. After all, the president traveled to Europe on the anniversary of the Russian invasion to warn Putin that he would never win the war. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who could also run in 2024, said he was "glad" that Biden went to Ukraine, "but he should have gone to eastern Palestine first."
Because of his political profile, Buttigieg is one of the most famous transportation secretaries in recent history. He's been in the spotlight during the travel turmoil of the airline industry — during weather shutdowns and during the chaos caused by Southwest's nightmare schedule last year.
Republicans blame the former South Bend, Indiana mayor for all of the traffic riots. In response, he sets himself up as a victim advocate. In the case of the Ohio derailment, for example, he wrote to Southern Norfolk District President Alan Shaw this week, lamenting that the derailment had "turned many residents' lives upside down."
"East Palestine should not be forgotten nor should it be seen as a mere cost of doing business," Buttigieg wrote in a letter clearly aimed at a wider audience than Shaw.
Buttigieg also admitted on Wednesday that he "could have talked about the incident sooner."
"I was so focused on making sure our staff on the ground were ready, but I could have spoken earlier about how I felt about this incident and that's a lesson for me," Buttigieg told CBS News in an interview with Red and Blue.
Buttigieg said he "respects the role the NTSB plays and stays away from them" but vowed to "focus on business, not politics or show" during his visit to eastern Palestine.
Now that Biden is back on American soil, the chances that he himself will pay a visit – to sympathize with the townspeople and show that he is at the height of his reaction – should increase. Such excursions are often associated with perception. But the presence of the Commander-in-Chief, like nothing else, inspires the government and convinces those affected by natural disasters that they will not be forgotten.
However, one thing is certain: If he leaves, Trump will fight for recognition.