Energy & Environment

Norfolk Southern CEO dodges question on support for railway reform bill

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing to examine protecting public health and the environment in the wake of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Norfolk Southern Railway CEO Alan Shaw said Wednesday that he supports certain aspects of a bipartisan railroad safety bill introduced after a train operated by the company crashed in East Palestine, Ohio, but declined to endorse the bill as a whole.

Shaw, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, told Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that there are “many provisions” in the bill, sponsored by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R) “for which we give our full-throated endorsement.” Asked by Klobuchar if he supported the bill itself, Shaw repeated, “I support a number of provisions within the bill.”

When the Minnesota Democrat followed up by asking which provisions in the legislation he did not support, Shaw instead began listing off provisions he endorsed, including funding for first-responder hazardous materials training and expansion of advanced notification.

Klobuchar vowed to submit the question in writing, saying, “I don’t want this to be one of those moments where we take two years to pass a bill.”

Vance, a member of the committee, also made witness remarks in which he urged colleagues to support the bill. As in his opening remarks at an earlier hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Vance blasted the argument that the legislation would constitute interference in the free market.

“The most outrageous and the most ridiculous thing that I’ve heard from industry groups and other activists in response to this bill is that it’s somehow a kind of Bolshevism to require the railroads to engage in proper safety standards,” he said. He referenced the rail industry successfully lobbying Congress to pass a bill breaking a looming rail strike in late 2022.

Pressed by Vance later in the hearing on whether he would also back provisions of the bill such as mandatory standards for wayside defect detectors “in principle,” Shaw replied in the affirmative. 

The Ohio Republican, who testified before Shaw, blasted what he said have been Norfolk Southern’s “blurry legalisms” in descriptions of their corrective actions. “Phrases from their announcement, ‘develop a plan,’ ‘anticipates adding,’ and ‘where practical’ are not enough, not when towns across America are at stake.”

Brown and Vance’s measure would transfer oversight of certain safety procedures from rail operators to the federal government, tighten requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials and introduce more modern tank cars. President Biden has endorsed the measure and Brown told The Hill last week that he believes it can secure a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate.

The Norfolk Southern train, which was carrying several cars of the hazardous chemical vinyl chloride, derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3. The Environmental Protection Agency has taken over cleanup effort and has said Norfolk Southern will be held financially liable for all relief.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Sherrod Brown

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