Democrats and the White House are blaming former President Donald Trump for the East Palestine train derailment, accusing him of revoking regulations they say would have prevented the disaster.
But Jennifer Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, made clear on Thursday that narrative is all bark and no bite.
What are the claims?
The narrative posits that Trump bears responsibility for the East Palestine train derailment because his administration rolled back regulations that critics now say would have prevented the train derailment and subsequent environmental disaster.
Specifically, critics say, for example, that electronically controlled pneumatic brakes could have prevented the derailment. The Obama administration issued the rule, and it was rolled back under Trump.
But what did Homendy say?
The top NTSB official told CNN anchor Jake Tapper unequivocally that ECP brakes would not have prevented the East Palestine train derailment.
"The NTSB has looked at electronically controlled pneumatic braking for a number of years, and we did some testing as well. Certainly, it would improve safety. But for this investigation and for this derailment, ECP brakes would not have prevented the derailment," she said.
"The wheel bearing failed on car number 23. Even with ECP brakes, the derailment would have occurred," she explained.
Tapper followed up by asking if there is "any obvious rule change" that would have prevented the derailment. But again, critics of Trump would be disappointed in Homendy's answer.
"It's too early to tell," she told Tapper. "In our analysis phase of the investigation, we'll look at just that. We'll look at what could have prevented this terrible tragedy. And it could be regulation changes. It could be recommendations to Norfolk Southern, to the Department of Transportation, or to rail car manufacturers, or to emergency responders."
It is true that, under Trump, the DOT withdrew the rule on ECP brakes for trains carrying hazardous materials. However, as Politico explained, that happened only after intervention from Congress.
That withdrawal, however, stemmed from intervention by Congress, which required regulators to put the rule through a more stringent cost-benefit analysis after the Obama administration had issued the regulation. The rule ultimately failed that analysis.
Last week, Homendy first explained why ECP brakes and the withdrawn rule would not have prevented the derailment.
"The ECP braking rule would’ve applied ONLY to HIGH HAZARD FLAMMABLE TRAINS. The train that derailed in East Palestine was a MIXED FREIGHT TRAIN containing only 3 placarded Class 3 flammable liquids cars," she wrote on Twitter.
"This means even if the rule had gone into effect, this train wouldn't have had ECP brakes," she explained.
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