As thousands of residents of East Palestine, Ohio, struggle to find safe accommodation and tend to their alarming symptoms in the aftermath of a disastrous train derailment, Republican Governor Mike DeWine assured the public on Tuesday that he is “not seeing” any problems.
DeWine said this in response to a question on whether he was satisfied with the Biden administration’s response. DeWine contrasted himself from do-nothing Senator J.D. Vance, who complained (rightly) about the lack of a federal response; the Ohio governor said while he has spoken with President Biden, who offered assistance, he felt that no further assistance was needed.
While Vance and other Republicans might rightfully question the government’s inaction, they too have seldom done anything worth calling home about. Vance complained about the country being ruled by “unserious people who are worried about fake problems instead of the real fact that our country is falling apart.” Just hours before the train derailed, Vance posted a photo on Twitter of him aiming a gun at the sky, in reference to shooting down the Chinese spy balloon floating above the United States last week.
All this to say, most of Congress and the entire Biden administration is at fault here. Only a select, largely progressive group of lawmakers stuck by rail workers last year as they vied for reasonable work conditions and warned of disasters like this one occurring; the rest of Congress, including the president, imposed an inadequate contract on rail workers nationwide.
Meanwhile, rail companies have enjoyed continuing to chase profit with no abandon. They’ve been free to practice precision scheduled railroading, or PSR, which has led to smaller crews and bigger trains, and therefore greater strain on workers and greater risk for disaster. The Trump administration overturned an Obama-era rule that would’ve brought industry-wide improvement to the braking system—something that failed in East Palestine’s derailment. The Biden administration and Pete Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation have failed to revive it.
Though DeWine may just be contrasting himself from hacks like Vance, he must understand that there are, indeed, problems. Thousands of people are paranoid and scared, as they’ve been left to guide each other through confusing and inconsistent compensatory processes led by Norfolk Southern, the same company that brought them to such calamity. People are sick, their animals are dying, and misinformation about the incident is running rampant. DeWine and other officials should embrace what we’ve come to see yet again is true: The government must do much more to protect the dignity and welfare of its people.