Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traded barbs on Twitter Tuesday over the fiery train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
The GOP lawmaker accused Secretary Buttigieg of being missing in action on the train derailment, then supposedly lying about his past support for deregulation.
“He is an incompetent who is focused solely on his fantasies about his political future and needs to be fired,” Rubio said, referring to Buttigieg’s 2020 run for president.
Buttigieg fired back that Rubio had signed a letter “obviously drafted by railroad industry lobbyists.”
“It supports waivers that would reduce visual track inspections,” Buttigieg tweeted. “Now: will you vote to help us toughen rail safety accountability and fines, or not?”
He included examples of what Congress can to do help, writing: “If you’re serious, I’ll work with you on this.”
The back-and-forth came after Buttigieg announced a package of reforms following his warning to Norfolk Southern, the railroad responsible for the derailment, to fulfill its promises to clean up the mess just outside East Palestine, Ohio, and help the town recover. He said the Department of Transportation will hold the railroad accountable for any safety violations that contributed to the Feb. 3 crash near the Pennsylvania border.
“While ensuring the safety of those impacted by this crash is the immediate priority, we also have to recognize that this represents an important moment to redouble our efforts to make this far less likely to happen again in the future,” Buttigieg said.
Even though government data shows that derailments have declined in recent years, there were still 1,049 of them last year.
Buttigieg said railroads and tank car owners should accelerate their plan to upgrade the tank cars that haul flammable liquids like crude oil and ethanol by 2025 instead of waiting to comply with the 2029 standard Congress ultimately approved after regulators suggested the earlier deadline. He also said freight railroads should reach more agreements to provide their employees with paid sick time to help prevent fatigue.
US railroads were actually deregulated during the Carter administration, in 1980.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.