President Joe Biden on Wednesday ordered the appointment of a federal coordinator to oversee long-term recovery efforts in East Palestine, Ohio, following the February derailment of a Norfolk Southern train hauling toxic chemicals.
In an executive order, Biden tasked the Federal Emergency Management Agency tasked with appointing the coordinator who, as part of the role, “will conduct a comprehensive assessment of any unmet needs that are not addressed by Norfolk Southern and would qualify for Federal assistance” in the wake of the incident. The crash ignited a dayslong fire, spewing poisonous fumes into the area and killing thousands of fish and temporarily displacing residents.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency, which previously ordered Norfolk Southern to fully clean up the wreck, will continue to oversee removal and disposal of toxic waste from the derailment site and address any contamination in nearby surface stream sediment. Within 30 days of Wednesday’s order, the EPA will also provide a report to the president “on the status of air, soil, and water monitoring and whether Norfolk Southern continues to comply with the Federal Unilateral Administrative Order to address the imminent and substantial endangerment caused by the company’s derailment,” with subsequent reports every 60 days.
Wednesday’s executive order also tasks the departments of Health and Human Services and Transportation with producing their own reports over the next 60 days on the response to the derailment.
Biden drew criticism from congressional Republicans for his decision not to visit the site of the February train derailment – at the time, the president pointed to a robust federal response across agencies in the immediate aftermath of the derailment.
Shortly after the initial derailment, Biden traveled to Kyiv, drawing more partisan ire, including from East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, who told Fox News the president’s decision to visit war torn Ukraine in lieu of East Palestine was “the biggest slap in the face, that tells you right now he doesn’t care about us.”
The president was pressed earlier this month on his decision not to visit the area while surveying storm damage from Hurricane Idalia in Florida.
“Well, I haven’t had the occasion to go to East Palestine. There is a lot going on here, and I just haven’t been able to break. I was thinking whether I’d go to East Palestine this week, but I then was reminded I’ve got to go literally around the world,” Biden, who departed shortly after his comments for a trip to India and Vietnam. “But we’re making sure that East Palestine has what they need materially in order to deal with their problems.”
Pressed after Biden’s remarks, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated at a news briefing on September 5 that Biden “is going to go to East Palestine,” but declined to share additional details.