Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) criticized members of the Biden administration and the mainstream media for paying insufficient attention to the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment and the controlled burn of chemicals potentially threatening the health of millions in the heartland.
Local and state authorities evacuated all residents within one mile of the crash and started a controlled burn of spilled industrial chemicals to decrease the risk of an explosion. Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen that can contaminate water supplies, was released from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, raising concerns about air and water quality in the Ohio River Basin.
Vance, a newly elected member of the Senate, commented during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday that residents of East Palestine are victims of the incompetence and misplaced priorities of officials such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“We have had hundreds of train derailments after we spent over $1 trillion on infrastructure in this country, so the fact that this isn’t getting obviously better is a major indictment of the people spending the money and what they’re spending the money on,” Vance remarked. “Now we know, if you listen to Secretary Buttigieg today, that they are focused more on whether we have too many white men in construction jobs than he is on the fundamentals of his job, which is ensuring we have a viable transportation infrastructure in this country.”
Buttigieg was indeed silent on the train derailment for more than one week after the incident and several days after the controlled burn. He nevertheless appeared at the National Association of Counties Conference on Monday to discuss matters such as racial equity in the construction sector. The former presidential contender eventually addressed the crisis in a social media statement after facing pressure from elected Democrats and Republicans.
“My constituents in East Palestine have been some of the main victims of the fact that we have failing infrastructure in our country after spending tons of money in an effort to actually fix it,” Vance continued. “We are ruled by unserious people who are worried about fake problems instead of the real fact that our country is falling apart in some of the most important ways.”
Vance noted that legacy media outlets have devoted minimal amounts of attention to the crisis. He asserted that they are already prone to neglecting the problems faced by middle America, adding that many reporters are unwilling to press government agencies and other institutions about the potential scope of the disaster. Legacy networks ABC, CBS, and NBC spent less than half an hour covering the train derailment between February 4 and February 14, according to an analysis from the Media Research Center.
“I think that the entire country, the media complex, the leaders of this country, have decided to disregard the people of East Palestine,” he said. “If you look at the way that this story has been covered, if it’s been covered at all, it’s about how there are poor people in East Palestine who have been victimized by this disaster. Well of course that’s true, but you want journalists asking tough questions about what’s going on.”
Vance also expressed frustration that he has been unable to receive transparent information from government agencies, including details on the amount of vinyl chloride that can render water undrinkable. “I’ve been trying to get an answer to that question for days. I haven’t been able to get an answer to it,” he continued. “We unfortunately don’t have a media that is actually interested in asking those questions and answering them.”