Secretary Mayor Pete Not Having Any Of Marco Rubio's Sh*t
As part of the rightwing attempt to blame Democrats for the Norfolk Southern train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has been calling for Transportation Secretary Mayor Pete Buttigieg to resign, because ... well why, exactly? Mostly for being a Democrat in a Cabinet post, because Buttigieg didn't keep a commercially owned train from derailing, and also didn't keep its toxic cargo from spilling, and also something something woke distractions incompetence. Oh, and Buttigieg didn't fix the computer SNAFU that snarled air traffic in January, and he failed to make Southwest Airlines not suck following a huge snowstorm, either.
Tuesday, Buttigieg called on the railroad industry to improve safety, telling Norfolk Southern and the rest of the industry to take immediate steps to improve safety. Among other steps, Buttigieg called for higher fines for safety violations, for freight railroads to protect workers who report safety issues from reprisals, and for the industry to
Deploy new inspection technologies without seeking permission to abandon human inspections. The removal of human inspections has been a top priority for the rail lobbyists. Recent waiver requests around technology like Automated Track Inspection (ATI) have been framed by industry to set up a false choice between technology and human oversight. We need both to keep our nation’s railroads safe.
Wouldn't you know it, Rubio was one of 23 Republican senators who signed a 2021 letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) calling for expanded use of the automatic inspections, but also insisting that the automated tech, mounted on freight cars or locomotives, are so much better that visual track inspections by human beings are "redundant."
A switch to automated inspections would also save having to pay those human inspectors, which the letter didn't mention.
(We'll also note that while track safety is absolutely vital, the East Palestine derailment appears to have resulted from a failed wheel bearing on one of the train cars, not a flaw in the track.)
During a press call Monday night, Buttigieg previewed the safety reform proposals, and noted that the aftermath of the derailment represents
"a moment of potential bipartisan cooperation,” he said, emphasizing the word “potential.”
Buttigieg also took the opportunity to call attention to that 2021 letter Rubio had signed:
We heard from Sen. Rubio last week, who had some pretty strong words about this incident. [...] I can’t help but notice the last time this agency heard from him on rail regulation was his signature being on a letter that was pretty obviously drafted by industry, calling on us to weaken our practices around track inspection.
Buttigieg also said — again — that he plans to visit East Palestine once the recovery efforts are farther along, but doesn't want to go when he might be in the way of cleanup efforts.
Tuesday, Rubio did that pissy little thing that Republicans do, complaining on Twitter that he had been most viciously maligned, and by a lazy good-for-nothing who needs to be fired, no less!
First @SecretaryPete was m.i.a. on the derailment
Then he lies to media claiming my 2021 letter calling for more track inspections was a letter calling for deregulation
He is an incompetent who is focused solely on his fantasies about his political future & needs to be fired
We like the part where Rubio doesn't say that "more track inspections" in this case referred to more automated inspections, and that the letter explicitly called for the FRA to issue waivers to railroads that would allow "an increase in the frequency of automated track inspections in place of visual inspections" — for efficiency and safety, of course, not for higher railroad profit margins.
Buttigieg replied by stuffing Rubio into his locker, only metaphorically, tweeting
The facts don't lie. The 2021 letter you signed was obviously drafted by railroad industry lobbyists.
It supports waivers that would reduce visual track inspections.
Now: will you vote to help us toughen rail safety accountability and fines, or not?
Buttigieg followed that by linking to the package of proposed reforms, adding,
Here are some examples of what Congress can do to help (along with immediate steps we've been taking and what we demand rail companies do). If you're serious, I'll work with you on this.
Rubio replied by calling again for Buttigieg to resign, and didn't say a single word about rail safety, so he wins we guess.
As for the claim that automated track inspection is far better than visual inspection, you'll be astonished to hear that that too is one of the issues on which the industry and the railroad unions have disagreed. Railroad giant BNSF sued the FRA last year to demand an extension of a pilot program, while union representatives said the new technology is just fine, but that it's not yet ready to entirely replace visual inspections by human inspectors, who can see problems the automated systems miss. Buttigieg's proposal, you'll recall, calls for more use of ATI, but not at the expense of human inspectors.
Also too, Florida's other senator, Rick Scott (R), griped on Tuesday that Buttigieg needs to go to East Palestine immediately, never mind whether he'd be in the way of the recovery work, because leaders show up, get in the way, and do photo ops, and that's how problems get solved.
“When leaders show up, things get done—enough with the excuses,” Scott tweeted. “Show up, do your job and stop playing politics with every crisis you find.”
It sure is good of Sen. Scott to be so non-political about this! In reply, Buttigieg re-Twitterated that he'll go when it's appropriate to have a bunch of bureaucrats like him there:
During the initial response phase, I've followed the norm of staying out of the way of the independent NTSB. Now that we're into the policy phase, I'll be visiting - and I need your help.
Will you work with us to toughen accountability standards on freight railroads?
Buttigieg again followed that with a link to his proposals, as if passing laws and regulations would make as much difference as showing up for a photo op.
In conclusion, we're fairly sure a Republican response to the crisis is on the way, and that it will involve tax cuts and deregulating railroads even further.
[Department of Transportation / Politico / HuffPo / Image created using StableDiffusion 2.1 AI]
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