EPA Administrator Defends East Palestine Waste Removal Process

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said Friday that his office is “in no way” inhibiting hazardous waste removal efforts at the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in the village.

“EPA in no way, shape, form or fashion is impeding the progress of the cleanup of East Palestine,” he declared Friday during a conference call with reporters.

The EPA has come under fire for what officials have called the slow pace of waste removal from the site where the Norfolk Southern train derailed Feb. 3. The derailment caused large amounts of toxic chemicals to spill into the soil and air.

Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine suggested the EPA has taken extra regulatory steps that have delayed the process of removing waste from the site.

“While I understand the steps the U.S. EPA is taking to ensure that the waste is disposed of in a safe and proper manner, the fact that waste removal has stalled is outrageous,” DeWine said March 10. “I’m calling on the U.S. EPA and Norfolk Southern to identify and subsequently authorize more sites to take this waste immediately. All licensed hazardous waste facilities in the country are well equipped to dispose of this soil – and, quite frankly, much more dangerous waste – in a safe manner. It’s time to get this process moving.”

DeWine and first lady Fran DeWine are expected to visit East Palestine today and receive updates on cleanup and community support activities.

Regan said he and DeWine have been in constant communication over the matter.

Regan said Norfolk Southern must first identify a certified hazardous waste facility. Then, it must confirm that the facility has a contract and approval from the EPA before the administration gives the go-ahead to ship the waste.

“I reminded him, and assured all of our state partners, that it’s Norfolk Southern’s responsibility to identify facilities that can receive this waste,” Regan said. “And those facilities must be on the EPA’s approved list.”

However, the agency has received resistance from some states that are refusing to accept toxic waste shipped from the derailment site.

Regan emphasized that states with approved facilities to treat or dispose of hazardous waste “have no basis” to reject materials from the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment.

“A state that blocks these waste shipments may be impeding Norfolk Southern’s ability to comply with its obligations, as well as EPA’s order to Norfolk Southern, which is unlawful,” Regan told reporters during the conference call.

This week, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt refused a request from the EPA to accept a shipment of 2,600 cubic yards of hazardous waste from East Palestine that would have been sent to a landfill in the state.

“States have no basis to prevent receipt of out-of-state waste from East Palestine while allowing similar waste to be disposed of in their states,” Regan said. 

The EPA administrator said waste from East Palestine has been tested and fully documented, and the country’s hazardous waste system to safely dispose of this waste is vital to public health.

“All states that have appropriate and available facilities must allow access to those facilities for waste treatment and disposal from the site,” Regan said. “The residents of East Palestine should expect that states, private companies and the federal government will work together to effectuate the swift cleanup they deserve.”

“That’s exactly what EPA is set up to do, and we will not tolerate anything less,” Regan said. 

To date, the EPA has removed approximately 6.8 million gallons of liquid waste, and more than 5,400 tons of solid waste has been transported from East Palestine to designated waste facilities.

As of March 16, nearly half of the total excavation of the soil underneath the rail tracks had been completed, Regan reported. He anticipates excavation will be completed by early April.

Regan said he’s “optimistic” that the entire cleanup will be completed in three months and reassured East Palestine residents and those communities with disposal facilities that the transportation and disposal process would be done safely.

One of the disposal and treatment sites is Heritage Thermal’s plant in nearby East Liverpool.

“We are absolutely laser focused on ensuring Norfolk Southern cleans up this mess as quickly as possible,” Regan said.

Pictured at top: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan left, walks with his staff through East Palestine on Feb. 16, 2023. (Lucy Schaly | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

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