State, federal authorities ramp up war of words in East Palestine as recovery continues
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)
Officials in both Ohio and Washington D.C. are putting pressure on Norfolk Southern to do right by the residents of East Palestine. In a handful of letters, they criticize the company’s response thus far and insist that it do more.
Attorney General Dave Yost
A letter from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost notifies Norfolk CEO Alan Shaw that his office is “considering litigation.” If he receives a referral from any state agency, Yost said, his office would “pursue all remedies available.”
He warns Shaw that, “Norfolk Southern is under a legal obligation to preserve all information potentially relevant to the impending litigation,” and insists that no information is “destroyed, altered, deleted or lost.”
In addition to preserving records related to Norfolk Southern itself, Yost instructs the company to maintain information regarding any contractors working on clean up.
Yost directs Shaw’s legal team to speak to one of his deputies if the company is interested in “discussions to amicably resolve this matter.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
Norfolk Southern must live up to its commitments to the people of East Palestine.
And as USDOT continues to do our own work, I wrote NS to make expectations clear: industry’s pattern of resistance to safety regulations must change. pic.twitter.com/VCqn73sMxC
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) February 20, 2023
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s letter took a noticeably broader perspective. While he said the derailment “upended” the lives of East Palestine residents, Buttigieg suggested the company’s culpability stretches even further.
“They fear for their future, as do thousands of American communities and neighborhoods that sit along railway lines,” Buttigieg said.
He insisted that Norfolk Southern provide “unequivocal support” for the East Palestine community and criticized its response so far.
“It is clear that area residents are not satisfied with the information, presence, and support they are getting from Norfolk Southern in the aftermath and recovery,” he wrote. “It is imperative that your company be unambiguous and forthright in its commitment to take care of the residents — now and in the future.”
Buttigieg argued the derailment in East Palestine should be Norfolk’s cue to take on a different posture, “that focuses on supporting, not thwarting, efforts to raise the standard of U.S. rail safety regulation.”
Like U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, he criticized the company for spending far more on stock buybacks than it has invested in its operations. Buttigieg also promised that new safety regulations are coming, and he will urge Congress to raise the cap on fines.
“To ensure their deterrent effect is commensurate with the economic proportions of today’s large railroad companies,” Buttigieg explained.
The latest in East Palestine
The Ohio Department of Health’s clinic opens its doors later today at the First Church of Christ in East Palestine. The department’s announcement says they’ll have registered nurses and mental health specialists on hand. In addition, toxicologists will be available in person or over the phone.
“Last week, I was in East Palestine and listened as many area residents expressed their concerns and fears,” state medical director Bruce Vanderhoff said in the release. “I heard you, the state heard you, and now the Ohio Department of Health and many of our partner agencies are providing this clinic, where people can come and discuss these vital issues with medical providers.”
Some residents have complained about ailments like burning eyes, sore throats, headaches or rashes. Many believe chemicals from the spill are to blame. The clinic will give residents a chance to get checked out and ask questions — particularly for those without a primary care doctor. The clinic will refer to people to other providers if necessary.
Teams from the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are pitching in to help as well.
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