Mar 15, 2023 - News

Ohio sues Norfolk Southern Railway over "epic disaster"

Ohio EPA and EPA contractors collect soil and air samples from the derailment site on March 9 in East Palestine. Photo: Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Momentum is growing to enact safer train regulations and hold the Norfolk Southern Railway accountable for last month's derailment in East Palestine.

Why it matters: Legislative action is helping keep ongoing political maneuvering from overshadowing concerns of residents who are still facing displacement and health issues.

The latest: The state of Ohio has filed suit against Norfolk Southern seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties for the Feb. 3 incident, Attorney General Dave Yost announced yesterday.

  • Yost alleges the railroad violated dozens of state and federal laws, many of them related to environmental protection.

What he's saying: When asked during the press conference how much the state was seeking in damages, Yost answered: "Lots, maybe lots and lots."

  • "Let's not underestimate this," he continued. "This was an epic disaster."

Meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing a new federal law that would require railroads to provide states advance notice when transporting hazardous materials.

  • The change is endorsed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and state Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem), who represents East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania border.
  • The proposed Railway Safety Act of 2023, co-introduced by Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), would also require two-person crews on trains and increase potential fines for safety violations, among other reforms.

The other side: A coalition of right-leaning groups oppose any new regulations, including the Conservative Action Project chaired by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

State of play: The train derailment has become a political football as officials head to East Palestine to point fingers, Axios Cleveland reports.

  • He previously accused President Biden of ignoring the city's residents "because not enough of them voted for him," a similar criticism made by former President Trump during his visit to East Palestine in late February.
  • As president, Trump repealed multiple Obama-era Department of Transportation safety rules meant to improve rail safety, including one that required high-hazard cargo trains to have electronically controlled pneumatic brake technology by 2023, per PolitiFact.
  • Other visitors include Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who urged bipartisan cooperation for stronger railroad safety regulations, as well as Sen. Brown, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Between the lines: While some residents of East Palestine have welcomed Trump and other politicians, others feel exploited.

  • "They're using East Palestine like China and Russia and the U.S. are using Ukraine," East Palestine business owner Joe Botinovch told Politico. "It's a proxy war."
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