The Environmental Protection Agency ordered Norfolk Southern Railway to pay for the cost of cleaning up a derailment and massive chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, on Tuesday, as the federal government took control of the site and threatened the rail operator with financial consequences if it failed to clean the soil and water.
At a press conference, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the agency was ordering Norfolk Southern to take all available actions to clean up contaminated soil and water and subsequently dispose of those contaminated materials safely.
The federal government will offer cleaning services to residents and businesses impacted by the spill, and Norfolk Southern will reimburse the government, Regan said.
If Norfolk Southern does not comply with the EPA order, Regan said the agency would do the work itself and request triple in damages from the company.
Norfolk Southern will have to attend and participate in public meetings organized by the EPA, Regan said, after the company said its representatives would not attend a town meeting last week due to purported threats against its employees, leaving many residents of East Palestine enraged.
Before the press conference, multiple outlets reported Regan joined Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) at the home of an East Palestine resident, where officials drank a glass of the tap water, a signal to residents that the water was safe.
“Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community,” Regan said.
What To Watch For
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D)—who’s involved given the derailment’s close proximity to the Pennsylvania border—announced at the press conference his administration made a criminal referral about Norfolk Southern to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, after what he called the company’s “failed management of this crisis.” DeWine said the Ohio attorney general also launched an investigation.
The EPA’s announcement comes as residents express concerns about the safety of the water, air and soil in East Palestine, after 38 rail cars derailed and started a fire earlier this month. The freight train included 20 cars with hazardous materials like vinyl chloride, 11 of which derailed, the National Transportation Safety Board said, causing a days-long chemical fire. While no one was injured or killed, authorities ordered the evacuation of East Palestine and neighboring areas, leaving residents worried about their health. In the days and weeks after the derailment, DeWine and Shapiro have tried to ease their residents’ concerns. When DeWine lifted his evacuation order, he told residents air quality samples showed safe readings, and Ohio officials later said it was safe for residents to drink tap water. Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern has released almost daily statements on the derailment, and on Tuesday put out another statement saying the company had paid for clean-up activities to date would continue to do so. The company also said it would be in the community “for as long as it takes,” to safely clean the site and reimburse residents.
$70,000. That’s how much the EPA can fine Norfolk Southern a day if the work is not completed, the Associated Press reported.