Gov. Josh Shapiro gives an update on East Palestine, Ohio train derailment during a news conference on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Commonwealth Media Services)
EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Freight hauler Norfolk Southern showed “arrogance and incompetence” in how it handled a fiery train derailment near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border earlier this month, Gov. Josh Shapiro said Tuesday.
“The combination of greed, incompetence and lack of concern for our residents is absolutely unacceptable to me,” Shapiro said during a news conference near the crash site, where he was joined by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine
“I’ve been outspoken about the serious concerns that I have with the company’s failed management of this crisis,” the Democratic governor continued “They chose not to participate in the unified command. They gave inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data, and they refused to explore or articulate alternative courses of action when we were dealing with the derailment in the early days. In sum, Norfolk, Southern injected unnecessary risk into this crisis and they created confusion in this process.”
In the days following the Feb. 3 derailment of 50 cars of one of its freight trains, the company conducted a controlled release of vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, from five of the cars, rather than wait for a possible explosion.
The fiery release created a cloud of black smoke, and raised concerns about pollution and health effects for residents in the area near the wreck, which included Darlington Township in Beaver County, north of Pittsburgh.
Regan said Tuesday that his office is ordering Norfolk Southern to conduct “all necessary actions associated with the cleanup from the East Palestine train derailment.” The railroad “will clean up all contamination in soil and water” and be responsible for transporting the contamination “to ensure that residents are not impacted further.”
The work will be done to the EPA’s specifications, Regan continued, and Norfolk Southern will reimburse the agency for the cleaning services conducted by its staff and experts, as an additional layer of insurance.
“If the company fails to complete any action ordered by the EPA, the agency will immediately step in, conduct the work ourselves and then force Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost,” Regan added. “In no way shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess that they created.”
Regan said the railroad would be required to attend public meetings at the request of the EPA.
The company said in a statement on Monday that it was working to excavate soil and water near the derailment site that had been contaminated.
Shapiro praised the EPA for the order requiring the railroad to pay for cleanup.
“It is an important step that will give our communities confidence that they will not be on the hook for the cleanup that was made at the hands of a multibillion-dollar company’s mess,” he said. “In the face of Norfolk Southern’s arrogance and incompetence, I want you to know we are fighting back.”He added that his administration would “remain vigilant for any threats to Pennsylvania.”
DeWine, a Republican, said there was a need for Congress to “take a hard look at real safety” following the derailment.
“There is something fundamentally wrong when a train like this could come into a state, and the current law does not require them to notify the state or local officials,” DeWine said. “That simply has to be changed.”
He added that it made “absolutely no sense at all” that the railroad was not required under current law to make such notifications.
“The two of us as governors of states that have been directly impacted by the tragedy, we’re going to make sure that our voices are continued to be heard.”
Also on Tuesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he was seeking to impose tighter regulations on freight trains that carry toxic chemicals such as the one that derailed in East Palestine.
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