Transport Secretary Buttigieg sends “sharply worded letter” to train company, 16 days after Ohio derailment – National & International News – MON 20Feb2023
Buttigieg sends “sharply worded letter” to train company 16 days after Ohio derailment.
Biden makes surprise visit to Ukrainian capital ahead of Russian war anniversary.
Breaking: Another massive quake strikes Turkey.
Breaking: Another massive quake strikes Turkey
Just over an hour ago, a 6.4 magnitude struck the southern Turkish province of Hatay. This is now two weeks after two earthquakes measuring 7.8 and 7.5 struck further east. In those quakes, Hatay was one of Turkey’s worst affected provinces. This quake seems to have been centered on Antakya (ancient Antioch). There, many people have been sleeping in tents since the initial earthquakes hit, afraid to return to their homes with over 100 aftershocks a day still threatening to topple already damaged buildings.
Early reports indicate that more buildings did come down in this quake. It’s too early to say at this moment whether this quake will add significantly to the already astronomically high death toll. Rescue crews are already there on the ground assisting in recovery from the previous quakes. However, the region is likely to experience more strong aftershocks from this quake in the coming hours and days.
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Buttigieg sends “sharply worded letter” to train company 16 days after Ohio derailment
Yesterday – just over two weeks after the Feb. 3 derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, OH – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote what ABC News calls a “sharply worded letter” to the CEO of the Norfolk Southern rail company. Worth noting, Buttigieg didn’t address the incident at all for 10 days, despite being head of the relevant department.
The derailment and the release and controlled burn of vinyl chloride at the site has raised health fears among East Palestine’s 5000 residents. Local authorities ordered an evacuation of the area shortly after the derailment, fearing a catastrophic explosion from the vinyl chloride. Residents were allowed back six days after. Many say they have regretted returning. Locals say that they can still smell strong fumes in the area and have reported various troubling symptoms including burning eyes and throat, loose stools, headaches and rashes.
State authorities have been insistent that the chemical spill has not affected local drinking water supplies. However, residents are not convinced, after a massive die off of fish in local waterways.
Norfolk Southern initially offered to pay the town $25,000, or about $5 per resident. It’s now upped its offer of an “inconvenience fee” to $1000 per household. The company is worth about $55 billion and reported record profits last year.
Residents aren’t having it and have launched several lawsuits against the rail company, demanding among other things that the company pay for special medical screenings for anyone exposed to the spill and its aftermath.
What did Buttigieg’s “sharply worded letter” say?
Essentially, Buttigieg calls on Norfolk Southern to pay for the clean-up, “make residents whole”, and accept safety reforms. The letter points out that Norfolk Southern and the entire rail industry has actively lobbied against safety rules changes that would likely have prevented the Feb. 3 incident, or at least limited the scale of the catastrophe.
Specifically, he cited the industry’s efforts to fight tighter rules around high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT). These rules govern the speed at which these trains can travel through populated areas as well was what equipment and personnel have to be on the train. Thanks to lobbying pressure from the rail industry during the Obama administration, the rules for labeling these trains is very lax. As a result, the East Palestine train was not labeled as a high-hazard flammable train, despite carrying at least 5 cars containing highly-flammable and toxic chemicals.
The rail industry lobby was also successful in repealing a rule requiring installation of Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) braking technology during the Trump administration. As a result, the East Palestine train was using the Civil War-era braking technology used on most US rail freight.
NTSB is still investigating the cause of the accident, but it seems clear that poor regulation was at the root of it.
Buttigieg’s poor track record
Buttigieg’s letter concludes, “I expect that Norfolk Southern and other railroads will take action now, not later, to address public safety concerns and better prevent future disasters”. Unfortunately, Buttigieg does not have a good track record of holding companies accountable when it comes to repeated systemic failures.
For example, he failed to meaningfully tackle or address thousands of flight cancellations last summer. It wasn’t until the summer travel season was nearly over that Buttigieg threatened to take any action against airlines that did not offer inconvenienced travelers a full refund. Both Republican and Democratic Senators also blasted Buttigieg for his handling of the Southwest Airlines meltdown in December, and for his absence from a Senate hearing on the subject.
Before joining Biden’s Cabinet, Buttigieg was Mayor of South Bend, IN, from 2012 to 2020, earning him the moniker “Mayor Pete”. His greatest transportation-related accomplishment as Mayor of South Bend was putting some decorative lights on a bridge.
In his two years leading the Department of Transportation, Buttigieg has had ample opportunity to raise concerns about woefully inadequate safety regulations on the railroads. He did not. Admittedly, these failures to legislate and regulate predate his tenure. Still, two years is a long time for the Secretary of Transportation to say nothing about this immense problem. So is 16 days.
You can read the full contents of Buttigieg’s “sharply worded letter” by clicking here and scrolling down the page (opens in new tab).
Biden makes surprise visit to Ukrainian capital ahead of Russian war anniversary
This Friday, Feb. 24, will mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ahead of this sad occasion, President Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Biden reiterated US and Western support for Ukraine’s fight and pledged a further $500 million in US financial aid. He also commended the Ukrainians for holding out for a year against all odds. This time a year ago, most thought the war would be over in two weeks.
In addition to the anniversary, the timing of Biden’s visit coincides with a moment of increasing division among Ukraine’s allies. Zelenskyy has been aggressively campaigning for his allies to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine ahead of a renewed Russian offensive. He’s been asking for them since March last year, though with little hope of receiving them. After Germany and the US recently agreed to send battle tanks, a move they’d long resisted, Zelenskyy doubled and tripled down on his requests for F-16s.
Some of the allies, like Ukraine’s neighbor Poland, are all too eager to send them, but are waiting for some sign of support from the US, France, the UK or Germany. Over the weekend, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield may have signaled increased willingness by the US to supply the jets. Thomas-Greenfield says the US is “still having discussions” with Ukrainians on the subject.
One very good argument against supplying the jets to Ukraine is that it might just be the final push needed for China to begin supplying weapons to Russia.
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