WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — Amid concern over the release of toxic chemicals, there have been renewed calls for Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to visit the site of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, who represents the area, told NewsNation that Buttigieg’s absence concerns him.
“I haven’t heard from him, he hasn’t called and talked to me,” Johnson said. “He certainly has not been down to East Palestine to see what’s going on. He seems to be fairly disconnected from the whole process.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is the acting lead safety agency and NewsNation was told that the Department of Transportation has had people on the ground since the immediate aftermath of the derailment.
So far, Buttigieg hasn’t announced any plans to visit the site.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been on the ground since the derailment and now senior leadership will be in that community as well.
NewsNation was told that EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore, who oversees the area, was at Wednesday’s scheduled town hall meeting, which was changed to an open house format to address residents’ concerns about hazardous materials in their air and water.
The head of the EPA, Michael Regan, is scheduled to visit East Palestine on Thursday.
Regan tweeted, “I want the residents of East Palestine to know that we understand their fears and concerns. That’s why @EPA has had boots on the ground from day 1, leading robust 24/7 air-quality testing and screening homes.”
At the White House, they have highlighted the EPA’s work in the area, saying the agency is working “hand in glove” with Ohio officials.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who are polar opposites politically, agreed on Twitter that there should be a congressional inquiry into the derailment and that there needs to be “direct action from Pete Buttigieg to address this tragedy.”
Secretary Buttigieg responded by tweeting, “Glad to see newfound bipartisan agreement here. We could start by discussing immediate steps Congress could take to address rail safety & reduce constraints on USDOT in this area. Give us a call, we can do some good work.”
The secretary was supposed to be in Georgia on Wednesday, but that appearance was postponed.
On Wednesday, the EPA tweeted, “As of last night, we have screened 459 homes and no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride have been identified.”
Also on Wednesday, senators from Ohio and Pennsylvania came together to write a letter to the EPA and the National Transportation Safety Board with their concerns.
They want to ensure that Norfolk Southern is held accountable and that adequate resources are being delivered to the area.
NewsNation asked the Department of Transportation if the secretary or other senior officials will travel to East Palestine, and has not heard back.