State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).
Though hesitant about its effectiveness, a Pennsylvania Senate panel has moved to legally compel the CEO of Norfolk Southern to appear before lawmakers to discuss last month’s train derailment in Ohio and concerns brought on by the fiery wreck.
The Republican-controlled Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted 9-1 on Wednesday to subpoena Alan Shaw, requesting that the president and CEO of the railroad company testify about the train derailment in East Palestine and subsequent disaster response during a Capitol hearing scheduled for March 8.
A Norfolk Southern train derailed in Ohio, just miles away from the Pennsylvania border on Feb. 3. Two days later, hundreds of residents near the site — including some in Pennsylvania — were ordered to evacuate while the company performed a controlled release of hazardous materials carried by five rail cars to avoid a possible explosion.
Officials lifted the evacuation order on Feb. 8 and have said that testing indicates no water or air contamination. Residents, however, have complained about feeling sick since returning home.
A cover letter accompanying the legal request will also ask for documents, videos, emails, texts, and other communication related to the derailment.
Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, who chairs the committee, said the panel will consider additional subpoenas if Shaw does not willingly provide the requested information.
“Let’s give him a shot to answer the questions,” Mastriano said. “If he doesn’t, he’ll be back with documents, which will take probably a month to produce. But the people of western Pennsylvania want answers. They feel forgotten.”
Shaw previously met with local leaders in East Palestine in mid-February but later pulled out of a community hearing to discuss the derailment and clean-up efforts, citing a “growing physical threat” to employees.
Last week, lawmakers invited Shaw to a legislative hearing in Beaver County with residents affected by the crash and state officials, but he did not participate. He’s expected to appear before a U.S. Senate panel next week.
Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, voted in favor of the legal request, but she noted that Shaw could decline to comment if he appeared before lawmakers. She also said the legislative panel hasn’t received requested information from the Shapiro administration despite multiple requests for data mentioned during last week’s hearing.
“In the absence of that information, I don’t want to hear from anyone that people aren’t in harm’s way and that everything’s fine,” she said.
Sen. Tracy Pennycuick, R-Montgomery, was the only lawmaker to vote against the measure, saying the timing was “a little premature.” She cited multiple class action lawsuits filed against Norfolk Southern after the derailment and said lawmakers should focus “on restoring Beaver County to 100% of what they had before this accident.”
Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, supported the measure but noted procedural concerns about the timeline of issuing a subpoena and sending an official from Pennsylvania to Atlanta to deliver it.
“I do know that our residents need answers, should have been getting them all along,” Bartolotta said. “And perhaps, this will shake the tree and loosen up some tongues at Norfolk Southern.”
Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Clearfield, recused himself from the vote because a law firm he’s affiliated with previously represented Norfolk Southern. Langerholc noted that he has not worked with the company directly.
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