President Biden will visit East Palestine, Ohio, next month to mark the first anniversary of the Norfolk Southern train derailment that devastated the community, according to a White House official.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a trip that had not yet been formally announced, did not give a date for the president’s visit.
Biden drew criticism last year for not immediately visiting the town in northeastern Ohio after a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed there Feb. 3, causing a massive fire and blanketing the area with a huge smoke cloud and chemical odor. The accident prompted hundreds of residents to evacuate and raised widespread public health concerns.
On Wednesday, the White House official defended the Biden administration’s response to the disaster, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency deployed emergency personnel to East Palestine within hours of the derailment. The Transportation Department also arrived within hours to support the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, the official said.
The official also noted that the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up all environmental damage caused by the derailment, including cleaning or disposing of contaminated soil and water, as well as reimbursing the federal government’s response costs. In September, Biden issued an executive order directing Norfolk Southern to continue to be held accountable for the derailment and address any long-term effects to the community, the official added.
Less than two weeks after the derailment, the EPA said the air in East Palestine was safe to breathe, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said he was “not seeing” the need for further federal assistance, though Biden had offered it. However, environmental advocates and residents questioned the response and remained apprehensive about the safety of the town’s water and soil in the aftermath of the disaster.
Biden said last March that he would visit East Palestine “at some point.” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and EPA Administrator Michael Regan both visited the town in the weeks after the derailment — as did former president Donald Trump, who spoke at the site to criticize the Biden administration’s response.
On Wednesday, Trump, who is running for reelection, said in a post on his social media network that Biden’s trip to East Palestine was coming “a year late.”
“I know those great people, I was there when it counted, and his reception won’t be a warm one,” Trump wrote.
Justine McDaniel contributed to this report.