Ken Blackwell: A Year Later, Biden Has Failed East Palestine

It has been a year since the unfortunate train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, when, on the evening of February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spilled 1.6 million pounds of toxic vinyl chloride into the local community, affecting its nearly 5,000 residents. Since then, the resilient town has undergone a significant journey of recovery and reconstruction. This tragedy left a lasting impact on the community, prompting an elaborate cleanup and a reassessment of rail safety regulations and preparedness.

Now, President Joe Biden is visiting East Palestine. As you might recall, the Biden Administration largely ignored East Palestine in the aftermath. But during a presidential election, the community has suddenly become a priority.

One year later, where does East Palestine go from here? Sadly, East Palestine, a staunchly pro-Donald Trump blue-collar community, is still in bad shape. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who was also widely criticized for not visiting East Palestine for months after the accident, only did the bare minimum of media interviews before turning his attention to more politically helpful issues. And the Biden Administration has been far more focused on a blank check to support the Ukrainian war than support East Palestine.

President Biden himself, whose mental acuity seems to decline by the minute, probably thought until this week that East Palestine is near Israel.

Meanwhile, never slow to take advantage of a crisis, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and his union masters have used the tragic anniversary to promote heavy-handed legislation full of progressive pet priorities and handouts to left-wing special interests. Unfortunately, Ohio Senator J.D. Vance has shown rare political naivety by co-sponsoring this misguided legislation.

Meanwhile, without waiting for Congressional mandates, America’s freight railroad industries moved quickly to implement safety solutions that make trains even safer than they already had been. For example, the most popular rail routes have seen hundreds of additional hot bearing detectors (HBDs), an upgrade to existing technology to monitor for potential defects in the rail. In addition, those HBDs are now utilized to enforce the new industry standard of stopping and inspecting trains when the temperature reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit instead of previously higher limits.

In addition, the rail industry has also voluntarily worked closely with East Palestine officials to train many thousands of firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement to ensure that all communities with rail lines have well-trained and certified rescue teams nearby.

More than 99.9% of all dangerous train cargo reaches its destination without an accident, and those few accidents have sharply declined year-over-year. Train transportation continues to be endlessly safer than transporting hazardous materials by truck, and it is the most environmentally friendly method. In comparison, more than 43,000 people die on U.S. highways each year. However, any accident is unacceptable, so the industry continues to take action.

In East Palestine, health and environmental recovery show signs of hope. One study by University of Kentucky’s Dr. Erin Haynes showed that blood samples of East Palestine residents had no sign of the cancer-causing dioxins that were once feared to be released during the chemical fire, which backs up the Environmental Protection Agency’s reports.

Also, soil and water testing results show a significant reduction in environmental contaminants, indicating successful cleanup operations. This achievement is a testament to the effectiveness of the response teams and highlights the importance of prompt and thorough environmental assessments in such situations.

At least 176,000 tons of contaminated soil and over 44 million gallons of tainted water have been removed and are now being replaced by crews. Further testing is also underway to ensure a complete cleanup.

As East Palestine commemorates the sad anniversary of the derailment, it serves as a sobering reminder of the progress made and lessons learned. Going forward, America must make thoughtful rail-related policy decisions, guide efforts for meaningful rail safety regulations, and bolster emergency preparedness initiatives. Anything less would be a disservice to the communities that continue to bear the brunt of bureaucratic apathy and political indifference.

While the Biden Administration has poorly served East Palestine, the town remains a beacon of hope and inspiration for other communities facing similar challenges. They are a reminder that, instead of rushed legislation for special interests, our communities need continuous vigilance and thoughtful improvements in rail safety, which are essential for the well-being of our nation.

Ken Blackwell is the former Treasurer of the State of Ohio and Mayor of Cincinnati. He is an advisor to America First Works/AFPI and Chairman of the Conservative Action Project (CAP).

The views expressed in opinion articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Black Community News.

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