A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 5, 2023, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern train. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar, File)

Disagreements Among Officials, Norfolk Southern Begin to Surface

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – As the village awaits a visit from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and U.S. Sens. J.D. Vance and Sherrod Brown today, it is becoming more apparent the Norfolk Southern Railroad and government officials were not in lockstep as much as initially thought.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday called the decision for a controlled breaching and burning of the hazardous vinyl chloride the better of two bad choices officials had four days after the Feb. 3 train derailment and the one Norfolk Southern officials were in favor of taking. The alternative was reportedly waiting for it to explode on its own, which DeWine had called potentially catastrophic.

But that same day, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro wrote a letter dated Feb. 14 voicing his concerns about Norfolk Southern’s management of the situation. Among criticisms, Shapiro said the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency were not alerted immediately of the situation, which occurred in Ohio but within a stone’s throw of the Pennsylvania state line.

Instead of a unified command being implemented, Shapiro said this created confusion and a general lack of awareness for first responders and emergency management. He claims Norfolk Southern separated themselves from others planning the response to do their own planning, which forced state and local agencies to react to their unilaterally developed tactics.

Additionally, Shapiro said Norfolk Southern gave inaccurate information and conflicting modeling about the impact of the controlled release, which made it difficult to make decisions. He said Norfolk Southern failed to notify state and local agencies about its plan to vent and burn all five vinyl chloride railcars instead of just the one that was at most risk of exploding. Finally, Shapiro claims the railroad was unwilling to look or talk about other options, instead rushing to take these actions instead of exploring safer alternatives that would have kept the railroad closed longer.

Train traffic returned to East Palestine Feb. 8 when it was also announced evacuation orders were being lifted and residents could return.

That press conference on Feb. 8 with DeWine and other officials was delayed by two hours that day, even more than previous delays for scheduled press conferences. At the time, sources were telling reporters that DeWine and Shapiro were on the phone during the delay and were not in agreement as to whether or not to lift the evacuation orders.

Financially, the railroad’s own statements show a record $12.7 billion in revenue in 2022. With $7.9 billion in operating expenses, income stood at $4.8 billion.

Before his visit, Brown called on DeWine to declare a disaster and seek federal government support for the derailment, which he said would bolster the ongoing cleanup efforts and play a critical role in getting the community back on its feet.

CEO Writes East Palestine Residents

This morning the CEO of Norfolk Southern, Alan H. Shaw, released an open letter addressed to all residents of East Palestine. Here is the text:

We will not walk away, East Palestine.

When I visited East Palestine last week, you told me how the train derailment has upended your lives and how concerned you are about the safety of your air, water, and land. Many of you have also reached out to Norfolk Southern to share your fears, your anger, and your frustration.

I hear you. We hear you.

I know you also have questions about whether Norfolk Southern will be here to help make things right.

My simple answer is that we are here and will stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and to help East Palestine recover and thrive.

Our work is underway. Crews are cleaning the site thoroughly, responsibly, and safely. Our Family Assistance Center is helping community members meet immediate needs. Together with local health officials, we have implemented a comprehensive testing program to ensure the safety of East Palestine’s water, air, and soil. And we have established a $1 million community support fund as a down payment on our commitment to help rebuild.

But our work is far from over. As we continue site clean-up, the NTSB moves forward with its investigation, and necessary environmental testing is carried out, I promise to keep you updated every step of the way.

I know there are still a lot of questions without answers. I know you’re tired. I know you’re worried. We will not let you down.

Pictured at top: A black plume rises over East Palestine as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of a derailed Norfolk Southern train Feb. 6, 2023. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar, File)

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