In the glow of one of this week’s press conference, the White House asserted that President Joe Biden solely intends on visiting East Palestine, Ohio – the epicenter of the disastrous Norfolk Southern train derailment five months ago, yet refrained from shedding light on the specifics surrounding the visit. The statement has raised eyebrows, as Biden’s tardy response to the calamitous incident has been sharply criticized by the local community grappling with not just the decimation caused by the disaster, but also the health hazards stemming from the controlled burn of toxic chemicals at the crash site.
“Why has the president not made the visit [to East Palestine] and at this point, is he just not going to?”
Karine Jean-Pierre: “He will travel…Just don’t have anything to share on travel” pic.twitter.com/YkYvB59GyL
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) July 5, 2023
The tragic episode unfolded in East Palestine, a quaint village nestled near Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania, when a Norfolk Southern freight train slipped from its track on February 3, incinerating a colossal toxic inferno. The conflagration necessitated the ignition of a controlled burn to curb a major explosion, consequently subjecting the survivors to lurking health and environmental perils. The victims expected a swift response from the highest offices, but their hopes were dashed when the president chose to visit Ukraine instead, inciting East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway to opine that Biden “doesn’t care about us.”
Making matters graver, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acquiesced to the long-delayed presidential visit but hoarded the details when probed about the planned engagement. She sought refuge in Biden’s recent travel frequency and iterated his words, “He will travel to East Palestine,” but remained tight-lipped about the “when” aspect. This obscured pronouncement has raked up more questions than answers about Biden’s commitment to the devastated community.
Notably, Biden’s silence has been thrown into sharp relief by the actions of other political figures — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for one, journeyed to the derailment area in late February, closely chased by former President Donald Trump. Biden had assured in March, “at some point” he would establish footprints in the battered town, but as of now, it’s a promise unkept.
A ray of optimism penetrated through the gloomy discourse as Jean-Pierre confirmed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently scrutinizing Ohio Governor Mike DeWine‘s proposition for a significant disaster declaration. A fortifying note was also struck with the assertion that Norfolk Southern has been compelled by the Environmental Protection Agency to foot the cleanup bill, reassuring the taxpayers they wouldn’t be shouldered with the burden of an accident they did not cause. In a statement, Jean-Pierre said, “And so when it comes to Norfolk Southern, they have met their terms of the order to date and there are stiff penalties if they do not.”
In the wake of these events, one fact is evident: the effects of the Norfolk Southern train derailment continue to wreak havoc on East Palestine, Ohio. Despite the White House’s affirmed commitment to remedial action, tangible progress appears to be shrouded in fog. However, the assurance of Norfolk Southern’s monetary accountability towards the crisis gives the tormented community room for cautious optimism. The authority’s actions will now be under an ominously watchful eye, judging whether the much-delayed presidential visit will be a placating gesture or an honest attempt to right the wrongs. Time, as always, will tell.