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‘This is their mess’: U.S. orders rail company to pay for Ohio train spill cleanup – National

The U.S. government’s Environment Agency chief said Tuesday that railroad operator Norfolk Southern is giving money to “clean up the mess” caused when a freight train derailment in Ohio released toxic chemicals into the environment. I have to pay,” he said.

Comments by the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were echoed by President Joe Biden later on Tuesday. “This is their mess. They should clean it up,” Biden said on Twitter.

The EPA also ordered Norfolk Southern officials to attend a town meeting regarding the February 3 spill in East Palestine, Ohio. Last week, company officials angered residents by boycotting a meeting, citing personal safety concerns.

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The EPA order requires Norfolk Southern to submit a work plan for EPA approval of the derailment-related cleanup. The wreck started a fire and clouds of smoke billowed over the town. Thousands of residents had to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned toxic chemicals.

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“Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will clean up the chaos they have created and will pay for the trauma they have inflicted on this community,” said EPA Director Michael Regan in East Palestine. said at a press conference.

Mr. Biden also said on social media that the railroad companies had succeeded in lobbying hard in Washington to delay regulation and urged Congress to pass new railroad safety measures. “This is more than train derailments and toxic waste spills. Years of opposition to safety measures are back in the roost,” Biden wrote.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday announced a series of reforms aimed at improving the safety of freight railroads in the country. The Department of Transportation said it would hold the railroad company accountable for the safety violations that led to the incident near the Pennsylvania border on February 3.

Also on Tuesday, a clinic staffed by pollution experts was opened to assess residents’ complaints. State and federal officials have repeatedly said they tested air and water samples and found no unsafe levels of toxins, but worrying about going home left them with constant headaches and eye problems. Some people complain of inflammation.

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Norfolk Southern said in an email that it recognizes its responsibility to clean up the derailment site “thoroughly and safely” and to bear the costs. “We will learn from this tragic accident and work with regulators and elected officials to improve rail safety,” he said.

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The company announced last week that it had established its first $1 million community assistance fund, and on Tuesday said it had distributed $3.4 million in direct financial assistance to more than 2,200 households to help cover the costs of evacuation. .

“Corporate greed and incompetence”

A train derails on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, sharply criticizes Norfolk Southern’s “corporate greed and incompetence” in taking responsibility for the derailment and in its subsequent response. bottom. The governor said the company chose not to work within the “unified command” of government agencies in decontamination.

“They caused confusion in this process,” Shapiro said. “They provided us with inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data, and refused to seek or clarify an alternative course of action when they were dealing with early derailments.”

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Shapiro was referring to the decision to drain toxic chemicals from the railcar after the wreck and set it on fire to create a plume of toxic air. but did not reply immediately.

The EPA has issued an order under the Federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. This gave those responsible for the contamination the power to force the removal of the contamination.

“We know this order cannot undo the nightmare that families in this town have been living, but it will begin to bring much-needed justice to the pain the Norfolk Southern has caused.” Regan said.

No deaths or injuries have been reported, but residents are demanding answers about health risks, blaming southern Norfolk and state and federal officials for lack of information.

The EPA requires companies to reimburse government agencies for the cleaning services they provide to residents and businesses. If the EPA is forced to do cleanup work that the railroad refuses, the EPA can force Norfolk Southern to pay three times his cost for those works, Regan said.

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Ohio Train Derailment: New Safety Concerns Amid Questions About Government Speed

Government agencies are taking this action now because the situation has moved from an emergency response phase led by local and state agencies to a cleanup phase led by the federal government, Regan said.

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The agency also works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Ohio Department of Environmental Protection, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to form a unified command structure to coordinate decontamination-related efforts. Create a. Norfolk Southern.

Buttigieg said railroad and tank car owners will have oil and tank car owners by 2025, rather than waiting to comply with the 2029 standards finally approved by Congress after regulators proposed earlier deadlines. He said plans to upgrade tankers carrying flammable liquids such as ethanol should be accelerated. He also said freight rail lines need to reach more agreements to provide employees with paid sick leave to prevent fatigue.

Buttigieg said regulators would try to reinstate proposed rules that the Trump administration has withdrawn. This called for upgraded electronically controlled brakes on certain trains filled with flammable liquids, designated as “highly flammable trains”. The rule was removed after instructing regulators to use cost-benefit analyses.

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Buttigieg said he urged Congress to “untie our hands here” on brake rules, saying regulators would not be subject to “high risk” rules after several severe crude oil train derailments in 2015. It said it may consider expanding the number of trains it serves. Worst of all, in 2013 he killed 47 people and destroyed his Megantic town of Lac He in Canada. He also said Congress should increase the current rail safety fine cap of $225,455 by at least ten times to create a better deterrent.

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Ohio train derailment: Governor DeWine calls on US Congress to consider railroad safety

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was in disbelief when he learned that the derailed Norfolk Southern Railroad had not received its “High Risk” designation.

“This is ridiculous,” said DeWine. “Congress needs to consider how this will be handled.”

The Federal Railroad Administration is also working to finalize the proposed rule to require two crew members, which Buttigieg pointed out as one of the Biden administration’s main efforts to improve railroad safety. increase.

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— with additional files from The Associated Press

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