Update: Biden Issues Executive Order to Protect People in East Palestine

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order to protect people in East Palestine, Ohio, and nearby communities and to continue to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the Feb. 3 train derailment.

A White House news release Wednesday stated that Biden directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to appoint a federal disaster recovery coordinator to oversee long-term recovery efforts in the community. 

On Thursday morning, FEMA announced it is designating coordinator Jim McPherson to conduct a comprehensive assessment of any unmet needs that are not addressed by Norfolk Southern and would qualify for federal assistance.

McPherson will collaborate with federal, state and local governments, the private sector and voluntary, faith-based and community organizations supporting the recovery. 

“In the aftermath of Norfolk Southern’s train derailment, FEMA worked closely with state, local and federal partners to support the people of East Palestine and the state of Ohio,” said Tom Sivak, FEMA Region 5 administrator. “President Biden’s executive order affirms the administration’s ongoing and steadfast commitment to supporting impacted communities, and coordinator McPherson will help ensure successful recovery efforts over the long-term.”

Along with directing FEMA to designate a federal disaster recovery coordinator, Biden’s executive order also directs the following federal agency actions:


  • The state of Ohio’s request for a major disaster declaration pursuant to the Stafford Act will be held open. If the FEMA administrator receives new information from the state, including needs that are not being addressed by Norfolk Southern, she will immediately submit a recommendation on whether a major disaster declaration is warranted.


  • EPA will continue to direct removal of contaminated soils and wastewater from the derailment site, in compliance with state and federal law. In addition, EPA will ensure that any remaining contamination in surface stream sediments is addressed, and that air and water monitoring continue.
  • Within 30 days, EPA will provide a report to the president on the status of air, soil and water monitoring and whether Norfolk Southern continues to comply with the Federal Unilateral Administrative Order to address the imminent and substantial endangerment caused by the company’s derailment. Moving forward, EPA will provide the president with an updated report every 60 days until all cleanup, assessment and monitoring work required by EPA’s order has been completed. 


  • Within 60 days, HHS will provide the president with a report summarizing key conclusions from the public health testing and assessment that has been conducted to date, and the resources HHS and the CDC have provided to address any health conditions related to the derailment.
  • In coordination with the affected States, HHS will continue to monitor the public health consequences of the derailment, including to determine whether any acute medical conditions develop. If such medical conditions develop, HHS and EPA will each evaluate whether a public health emergency should be declared.
  • HHS will provide technical assistance to the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania in the event that either state considers submitting a proposal for services through the Medicaid program for individuals affected by the derailment.


  • Within 60 days, DOT will provide the president with a report detailing the actions the department is taking in response to the East Palestine train derailment. This report will be updated within 120 days of the final National Transportation Safety Board investigation, and DOT will provide the president a preliminary set of follow-on actions to ensure accountability.

Pictured at top: This photo taken with a drone on Feb. 4, 2023, shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar, File)

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.