More than two weeks after a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, local residents and officials statewide are still clamoring for information from the federal government.
At a town hall event on Wednesday, one attendee asked Mayor Trent Conaway why Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was not present to provide answers about the impact of the environmental disaster.
“I don’t know,” Conaway replied. “Your guess is as good as me. Yesterday was the first time I heard anything from the White House.”
Later in the week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan showed up in East Palestine, marking the first visit by a senior Biden administration official. Many lawmakers across Ohio and beyond saw the gesture as too little, too late.
For the first time here in East Palestine @EPAMichaelRegan has arrived and visited the crash site of the massive train derailment. He assures everyone here. “They are safe!” @FOX19 pic.twitter.com/kKFKYZYWcQ
— Tricia Macke (@FOX19Tricia) February 16, 2023
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) called the delay “unacceptable” and asserted: “The damage done to East Palestine and the surrounding region is awful and it’s past time for those responsible to step up to the plate.”
Regan sat down for a Fox News Channel interview on Friday and was asked to respond to the criticism.
He attempted to defend the Biden administration’s initial reluctance to send a senior official by claiming that doing so would “divert or pull away resources from the emergency response, from the state police and the like.”
The EPA chief expressed confidence in “the emergency responders, including my EPA staff, that were on the ground hours after the train derailment and have been there since.”
Despite the fact that he had only spent a short time on the ground near the derailment site, Regan claimed that there was “no loss of life, no injuries, and that’s because emergency responders and local officials were able to focus on the job and not visitations.”
After his arrival, he said that he “spent time at a local creek” and at a local resident’s home, reiterating his talking point that “we’ve been there since day one.”
While he clearly sought to assure locals that they are safe, plenty of anecdotal evidence shows that there is reason for residents to be concerned about exposure to the leaked chemicals.
Nathan Velez said that his home is near the tracks and he has suffered from headaches since the crash.
“My question is why, if it’s OK and it’s safe and all these people say it’s safe, if it’s so safe and OK then why does it hurt?” he asked.