Embattled Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg Slams Norfolk Southern amid Criticism over His Response to Ohio Train Derailment

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a blistering letter to Norfolk Southern Sunday that accused the railway company of putting profits over safety. Earlier this month, the company’s train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.

The three-page letter came as Buttigieg has been chastised by residents of East Palestine and lawmakers over his response to the February 3 train derailment, which spilled toxic chemicals.

Buttigieg’s letter urged Norfolk Southern’s CEO and President to “demonstrate unequivocal support for the people” of East Palestine amid ongoing fear from its residents that their drinking water and air have been contaminated after what officials called a ‘controlled burn’ of chemicals.

The derailment “has upended the lives of numerous [East Palestine] residents, many of whom continue to worry about their immediate health and safety as well as the long-term effects of the dangerous materials released near their homes,” stated Buttigieg’s letter.

Buttigieg is facing growing calls for impeachment and resignation over how he handled the crisis. He told Norfolk Southern that the residents of East Palestine “are not satisfied with the information, presence, and support they are getting from Norfolk Southern in the aftermath and recovery.”

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, vowed “to hold Norfolk Southern responsible for any safety violations to have contributed to this derailment.”

Secretary Buttigieg called out other derailments of Norfolk Southern trains and blamed the company for spending millions of dollars lobbying against “common-sense safety regulations.”

“While we do not yet know what the NTSB investigation will conclude regarding what caused the derailment in East Palestine, we do know that these steps that Norfolk Southern and its peers lobbied against were intended to improve rail safety and to help keep Americans safe. The people of East Palestine cannot be forgotten, nor can their pain be considered the cost of doing business.” wrote Buttigieg.

Secretary Buttigieg accused Norfolk Southern of choosing profits for shareholders over investments in safety.

“Yours is an exceptionally profitable business. Norfolk Southern’s operating income was an astonishing $4.8 billion in 2022 — approaching a 37.8% operating margin. The income is 8% higher, or $362 million more in profit, compared to 2021. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that over the past five years, Norfolk Southern paid shareholders nearly $18 billion through stock buybacks and dividends — reportedly twice as much as the amount Norfolk Southern invested in its railways and operations,” wrote Buttigieg.

“The arithmetic suggests Norfolk Southern can remain extremely profitable while also complying with a higher standard of safety regulation and offering better consideration to its workers,” added the secretary.

Buttigieg said he would call on Congress to increase fines against railroad companies that violate safety regulations “to ensure their deterrent effect is commensurate with the economic proportions of today’s large railroad companies.”

GOP Senator Marco Rubio demands the firing of Buttigieg

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida sent a letter to President Joe Biden demanding that the commander-in-chief fire Secretary Buttigieg over his handling of the train derailment.

The GOP Republican argued that Buttigieg’s lack of leadership in the disaster is only the latest example of behavior that shows a “gross level of incompetence and apathy” that puts the safety of Americans at risk.

“For two years, Secretary Buttigieg downplayed and ignored crisis after crisis while prioritizing topics of little relevance to our nation’s transportation system. It is painfully clear to the American people that Secretary Buttigieg has little regard for the duties of the Secretary of Transportation,” wrote Rubio in the letter.

GOP Ohio Senator Warren Davidson suggested that the secretary could be impeached over the catastrophe if he doesn’t resign.

“I hope [Buttigieg] does resign, and if he doesn’t, you know, there’s a long list of impeachment criteria. I would never have thought we’d see a point where we need to impeach a secretary of Transportation, but doggone, how many failures have to happen on his watch before we call it?” said Davidson.

Secretary Buttigieg’s first public comments on the disaster came on February 13, ten days after the derailment, when he tweeted his concern.