Specifically, Pete Buttigieg said that while the DOT had taken steps to improve rail safety (with “historic investments”), the DOT was nonetheless constrained.
Because in 2018, the Trump administration withdrew a rule proposal (made in 2015) that required trains carrying certain chemicals use electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.
“In the wake of the East Palestine derailment and its impact on hundreds of residents, we’re seeing lots of newfound or renewed (and welcome) interest in our work on rail safety, so I wanted to share more about what we’ve been doing in this area,” Buttigieg tweeted.
“We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe. And of course, I’m always ready to work with Congress on furthering (or in some cases, restoring) our capacity to address rail safety issues.”
Is Donald Trump to blame?
Buttigieg’s claim that Trump-era decisions have left him constrained doesn’t quite hold up.
First of all, even if we take Buttigieg’s premise at face value, that Trump rescinded a rule in 2018, Pete Buttigieg has been Secretary of Transportation for two years. Buttigieg’s boss, President Joe Biden, has overseen the executive branch for two years.
Could not Buttigieg and Biden have reinstated whatever rules the Trump administration rescinded? Was something legally barring Buttigieg from reinstating whatever rule he is now criticizing Trump for rescinding? Or has Buttigieg been working to reinstate the rule but two years was insufficient time?
I’ve got questions – and they all treat Buttigieg’s hand in this skeptically. He is the reigning Secretary of Transportation, after all.
The law in question, passed by Congress in 2015, required the executive branch to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the ECP brake rule before enacting it. The Trump administration “used the law to kill the braking rule, but the cost-benefit analysis his administration used to do so was subsequently discredited,” The Lever reported. So, couldn’t Buttigieg reinstate?
Second, I don’t find Buttigieg’s premise fully convincing. Was Trump solely to blame? Or does the problem perhaps trace back further? Maybe to the Obama administration?
“Though the Obama administration did originally enact a rule requiring those better brakes on some trains,” The Lever reported, “its regulators sided with lobbyists and ignored the National Transportation Safety Boards’ (NTSB) request that the safety rules apply to rail cars carrying the kinds of dangerous, flammable chemicals onboard the Ohio train. Under the rules weakened by both the Obama and Trump administration’s decisions, [the chemical-carrying train in Ohio that derailed] was not being regulated as a ‘high-hazard flammable train.’”
Pete Buttigieg Needs to Accept Responsibility
Blaming Trump is the easiest play in the book; in liberal circles, blaming Trump can work for just about any situation, in any setting.
And I’m sure, in Buttigieg’s current setting, the Trump administration made decisions that cut against the interests of safety.
But Pete Buttigieg and the Biden administration need to own up to their own contributions to the problem.
Blaming Trump here isn’t a great look. Buttigieg has had the opportunity to make changes and he hasn’t.
“We had hoped to see [the ECP] issue move forward under the Biden administration,” Kristen Boyles, a managing attorney at Earthjustice, said. “It’s not clear that it’s a priority.”
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Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.