White House commits Norfolk Southern to clean up Ohio chemical spill
The head of a federal environmental agency said Tuesday that rail operator Norfolk Southern should “pay to fix the mess” created in Ohio after a freight train derailed and released toxic chemicals into the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief’s statement was echoed by President Joe Biden, who tweeted Tuesday that the company is obligated to clean up the incident, which was its fault.
The Environmental Protection Agency also ordered Norfolk Southern representatives to attend town hall meetings about the chemical spill in the East Palestine, Ohio, area. Company representatives ignored the meeting last week, citing concerns for their personal safety, which angered residents.
An Environmental Protection Agency order requires Norfolk Southern to submit a cleanup plan for agency approval related to the train derailment. The derailment sparked a fire that raised clouds of smoke over the city. Thousands of residents were evacuated while railroad workers drained and burned toxic chemicals.
“Let me be very clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they made and for the injuries they caused to this community,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Reagan said at a press conference in East Palestine.
Biden also said on Twitter that rail carriers are lobbying in Washington for measures against industry regulation, calling on Congress to pass the Railroad Safety Act.
Norfolk Southern acknowledged its responsibility to “thoroughly and safely” clean up the crash site and pay for all related expenses. “We are going to learn from this terrible accident and will work with regulators and elected officials to improve safety on the railroads,” the statement said.
Last week, the company said it had set up a $1 million fund to support the affected community, and on Tuesday it said it had provided $3.4 million in direct financial assistance to more than 2,200 families to cover evacuation costs.
The crash occurred on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, strongly criticized Norfolk Southern for the “corporate greed and incompetence” of the company responsible for the incident.
“They created confusion in this process,” Shapiro said. – “They provided us with inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data, and refused to explore or articulate alternative courses of action when we were dealing with the crash in the early days.
Shapiro was referring to the decision to drain toxic chemicals from the railroad cars after the wreck and set them on fire, resulting in a toxic cloud of smoke.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the order under federal law, which gives the agency the authority to compel the parties responsible for the contamination to remedy it.
Although no deaths or injuries have been reported, residents are demanding answers about the health risks and are blaming Norfolk Southern and state and federal authorities for the lack of information.
The agency will also establish a single command structure to coordinate cleanup efforts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Norfolk Southern.
You may be interested: Biden administration announces pending restrictions on asylum seekers