Energy & Environment

EPA to require Norfolk Southern to clean up chemicals after Ohio train derailment

FILE – A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, on Feb. 6, 2023. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a package of reforms to improve safety Tuesday, Feb. 21 — two days after he warned the railroad responsible for the derailment, Norfolk Southern, to fulfill its promises to clean up the mess just outside East Palestine, and help the town recover. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ordering Norfolk Southern to clean up and pay for the cleanup costs after one of its trains derailed and spilled chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. 

The legally binding order will require the company to identify and clean up contaminated soil and water, reimburse the EPA for the cleaning that it is doing and attend public meetings at the agency’s request, according to a press release from the agency.

The train derailment spilled a number of chemicals into the area, including a carcinogen called vinyl chloride that is used to make plastic. 

Officials temporarily evacuated the area, but have since said it is safe to return. Many community members, however, continue to express concerns about the air and water quality since the incident.

“Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess that they created and the trauma that they inflicted on this community,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Regan was joined at the conference by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D), who indicated that there could be additional legal action to come.

In particular, Shapiro said that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection made a criminal referral over the derailment to the state’s attorney general. DeWine said that Ohio’s attorney general would take “whatever action that Ohio law allows him to take.”

Shapiro also said that the company “injected unnecessary risk” into the crisis by providing inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data.

Norfolk Southern shared a statement with The Hill claiming the company has already been paying for cleanup activities and will continue to do so.

“We are committed to thoroughly and safely cleaning the site, and we are reimbursing residents for the disruption this has caused in their lives,” the statement reads. “We are investing in helping East Palestine thrive for the long-term, and we will continue to be in the community for as long as it takes.”

“We are going to learn from this terrible accident and work with regulators and elected officials to improve railroad safety,” the company added.

Under the newly announced EPA order, the agency will approve a work plan outlining the steps needed to clean up the environmental damage that the derailment caused. If Norfolk Southern doesn’t abide by the plan, the EPA will do the work and charge the company triple the cost. 

The order was made under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which gives the agency the ability to order entities responsible for pollution to clean it up.

The statement from the EPA said that this order marks a transition in response efforts from an emergency phase to a long-term cleanup phase. 

Updated at 3 p.m.

Tags Josh Shapiro Michael Regan Mike DeWine

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