House Republicans launching probe into DOT response to Ohio train derailment

House Republicans are launching an investigation into the Department of Transportation's response to the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, accusing Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg of being too slow to get involved.

Republicans have blasted Buttigieg, who took 10 days to publicly address the crisis, for not visiting the town sooner, among other things. Buttigieg told CBS News Tuesday that he should have publicly addressed the crisis sooner, and that it was a "lesson learned" for him, but said he was focused on making sure his Transportation Department employees had what they needed.

Republicans, led by House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, are asking Buttigieg for all documents and communications about his public response to the derailment; all records showing when he learned about the derailment; any change to DOT train maintenance and procedures since January 2021; and all documents and communications regarding the National Transportation Safety Board's progress on the cause of the derailment.

"This incident is an environmental and public health emergency that now threatens Americans across state lines," the Republicans wrote to Buttigieg. "Despite the U.S. Department of Transportation's responsibility to ensure safe and reliable transport in the United States, you ignored the catastrophe for over a week. The American people deserve answers as to what caused the derailment, and DOT needs to provide an explanation for its leadership's apathy in the face of this emergency."

Buttigieg tweeted a response to news of Republicans' probe.

"I am alarmed to learn that the Chair of the House Oversight Committee thinks that the NTSB is part of our Department," he wrote. "NTSB is independent (and with good reason). Still, of course, we will fully review this and respond appropriately."

The 38-car derailment has spurred serious heath and safety concerns over air quality and drinking water. The initial NTSB investigation results found the train was alerted three times by an alarm that was trigged by a hot axle. Video showed the wheel bearing was in the "final stage of overheat failure" before the train derailed, the report said. The NTSB found that the crew "took immediate action" after hearing the alarm and stopped the train, but while increasing the brake application, a wheel bearing failed.

Buttigieg received an update on the NTSB investigation and met with East Palestine residents on Thursday. He has said DOT representatives were on the ground within hours of the Feb. 3 incident, and have been working with other federal agencies to respond. The Environmental Protection Agency, NTSB and other agencies are heavily involved in the response, in addition to DOT.

"I was focused on just making sure that our folks on the ground were all set, but could have spoken sooner about how strongly I felt about this incident, and that's a lesson learned for me," Buttigieg told CBS News political correspondent Caitlin Huey-Burns earlier this week.

CBS News has reached out to the Transportation Department for comment.

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