East Palestine train derailment takes center stage at Senate hearing
Last month’s toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, will be front and center on Capitol Hill Thursday morning during a Senate hearing into the incident and its impact on local residents.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw is expected to tell the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he is “deeply sorry” for the derailment, which has thrust his freight rail company into the public spotlight.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, will blast the “partisan” response to the crisis in his state, according to part of his opening testimony obtained by Fox News Digital.
He’s one of three senators testifying in the first round of the high-profile hearing being conducted by the Environment and Public Works Committee. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, Brown’s fellow Ohioan in Congress’ upper chamber, is also set to appear along with neighboring Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
The second-round panel will feature Shaw along with regional officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and others.
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A freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in the small town of East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, spurring environmental and health concerns among residents there and nearby parts of Pennsylvania.
Residents have been voicing worries about the health risks after hazardous chemicals that the train was carrying were burned at the site, sending a plume of thick black smoke into the sky. Many have reported symptoms like nausea and dizziness despite state and local officials’ insistence that air and water levels remain safe.
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“I am deeply sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the people of East Palestine and surrounding communities, and I am determined to make it right,” Shaw will tell the Senate committee, according to excerpts from his planned testimony.
He will also say, “I have visited the East Palestine area frequently since the accident. I’ve met with residents of the community. I’ve heard their concerns, and I understand why they are worried. Their feedback has informed our approach.”
The incident has made an unlikely team of conservative Vance and liberal Brown, who partnered with Pennsylvania’s two senators on legislation aimed at strengthening railway safety standards – which the White House has already signaled support for.
Brown is expected to say in his opening statement as a witness, “The response to this crisis has been far too partisan. Today is an opportunity to change that. Senator Vance and I are both listening to the same Ohioans in this community – people who feel like they have no way to stand up to a company like Norfolk Southern, and are worried about what will happen when the cameras pack up and leave.”
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“It shouldn’t take a train derailment for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together for the people we serve – not corporations like Norfolk Southern. Lobbyists for the rail companies spent years fighting every effort to strengthen rules to make our trains and rail lines safer. Now Ohioans are paying the price,” the Ohio Democrat will also say.
He will also demand “a firm commitment from this company’s CEO that it will pay whatever it costs, for as long as it takes, to make this community whole.”
He and Vance both visited East Palestine two weeks after the train derailment.
But Norfolk Southern’s CEO is likely to catch heat for more than just the early February incident on Thursday.
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced on Tuesday evening that it would be opening an investigation into the railway giant’s safety practices after a spate of five serious incidents since December 2021.
Shaw is expected to stress his cooperation with the NTSB with regard to the February incident in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing.
“We are also committed to learning from this accident and working with public officials and the industry to make railroads even safer. In the meantime, we have already launched a series of immediate steps to enhance safety, based on the facts in the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report,” the CEO’s opening statement says.
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He’s also likely to tout the millions poured into the assistance effort thus far, explaining, “Financial assistance cannot change what happened, but it is an important part of doing the right thing. To date, we have committed to reimbursements and investments of more than $20 million in total, including by helping more than 4,200 families through our Family Assistance Center located in East Palestine. I am going to see this through. There are no strings attached to our assistance — if residents have a concern, we want them to come talk to us.”