Updated Feb 19, 2023 - Energy & Environment

East Palestine residents "right to be skeptical" after train derailment, Ohio senator says

People wait in line at the Norfolk Southern Assistance Center.

People wait in line at the Norfolk Southern Assistance Center to collect a $1,000 check and get reimbursed for expenses on Feb. 17 in East Palestine, Ohio. Photo: Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) said Sunday that residents of East Palestine, Ohio, are “right to be skeptical" after a toxic freight train derailment earlier this month forced residents to evacuate.

Driving the news: "Well, they’re right to be skeptical. The EPA administrator when I was there, both the state and federal EPA administrators, said that," Brown said on CNN's "State of the Union."

  • "But when you return to your home, we think the water is safe,” Brown added.

The big picture: Brown's remarks come as residents of East Palestine are demanding more information from Norfolk Southern, the company that operated the freight train, and elected officials over the derailment and its associated health concerns, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency, in addition to the Biden administration, vowed to hold Norfolk Southern responsible for the derailment.
  • "I want this community to know that they don't have to manage this issue on their own," EPA administrator Michael Regan said on Feb. 16.

State of play: Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw on Saturday met with officials in East Palestine.

  • Norfolk Southern previously did not attend a town hall with residents due to a perceived physical threat "stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties," Axios' Sam Allard reports.
  • Shaw said Saturday that Norfolk Southern is "working closely with Ohio environmental and health agencies on the long-term plan to protect the environment and the community," CNN reports.
  • "We are going to do the work thoroughly, completely, and safely," Shaw said during the Saturday meeting.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter Sunday to Shaw to "emphasize the urgent need for Norfolk Southern to demonstrate unequivocal support for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding areas."

  • "You have previously indicated to me that you are committed to meeting your responsibilities to this community, but 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," Buttigieg 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," he said.

Go deeper... Norfolk Southern reported rise in railway accident rates ahead of Ohio train derailment

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a letter from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

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