Ohio lawmakers hold hearing after East Palestine derailment
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Nearly a month after a train loaded with toxic chemicals derailed east of Palestine, Ohio, federal and state lawmakers are trying to prevent future train crashes.
Ohio lawmakers began considering the derailment Wednesday in their first hearing on the crash, as U.S. senators introduced a bipartisan bill that would force railroads, including Norfolk Southern, to comply with new safety rules.
A Norfolk Southern train derailed in northeast Ohio on Feb. 3 after its wheels overheated, spilling toxic chemicals into the air, water and land, according to preliminary reports. National Transportation Safety Board. Residents evacuated their homes as the company conducted a controlled release of vinyl chloride to prevent an explosion.
People have now returned to their homes, and while authorities say municipal air and water are safe, there are concerns about long-term health consequences.
The derailment sparked national rail safety criticism and has drawn attention to other derailments since then, including another Norfolk Southern train that derailed in Michigan on Feb. 16 with mostly empty cars and a propane tanker that derailed in Florida this week. and cut tracks. No leaks have been identified, officials said.
USA TODAY-IPSOS Poll:Most Americans believe stricter regulations could prevent the Ohio train from derailing
State lawmakers are questioning EPA officials about the disaster
Ohio senators asked Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials Wednesday about efforts to clean up the village and test air, water and soil. State and federal agencies conduct weekly tests on municipal water systems and continue to clean up heavily polluted streams in eastern Palestine.
They also dug up the dirt near the derailment and moved it off-site. Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel said the next step is to rebuild the roads in Norfolk South and get rid of the contaminated soil below.
“This is not an easy fix, and Americans love easy fixes,” said Ohio Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem. “It won’t happen here. We need years of ground research and testing. We need to lay the foundations of a beautiful city in eastern Palestine and we need to rebuild it.”
The committee also heard information about the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s emergency response to the derailment.
Railroads are largely regulated by federal law and therefore limited by what the state can achieve. But Senate Speaker Matt Huffman previously said the committee could look into tort law, which deals with civil lawsuits, and how someone can seek relief because they’ve been wronged.
Huffman also said lawmakers may include one-time funds in the next state budget to help people in and around eastern Palestine.
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US senators introduced a new bill
On the federal side, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at preventing train derailments and addressing issues raised during the NTSB investigation.
The proposal comes after Gov. Mike DeWine asked Congress to review how trains are classified when transporting hazardous chemicals across states. The Norfolk Southern train was not considered a high-fire risk train, meaning the company did not need to notify state regulators of its passage.
“We owe every American the peace of mind that their communities are protected from a disaster like this,” Vance said in a statement.
What does the bill do to prevent derailment?
- Require states to notify states in advance of trains carrying hazardous materials, even if they are not high-risk combustible trains.
- Require trains with these materials on board to be scanned by hot bearing detectors every 10 miles.
- Require teams of two, update inspection rules and ensure they are carried out by qualified car inspectors.
- Increase the maximum fine for railroads that violate the rules to 1% of their annual operating revenue, up from $225,000.
- Increases HAZMAT registration fees paid by railroads to fund grants for emergency response training.
Separately, Brown said he has spoken with the White House about how to support residents of eastern Palestine if Norfolk Southern does not follow through on its promises. The Washington Post reported that White House officials are weighing what economic aid they can provide to the community.
“I want Norfolk Southern to pay up quickly, but if they don’t, we have to find another way to help them,” Brown told reporters Wednesday.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and other members of the Ohio delegation have introduced legislation to ensure that residents and businesses do not have to pay taxes on disaster relief payments.
Railroad CEO testifies to Congress
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has agreed to appear before the Senate Environment and Works Committee next Thursday, where he could face serious questions about whether the railway has invested enough in safety as it has cut jobs and streamlined operations in recent years. on fewer and longer trains.
Shaw said the railroad is willing to help the city recover from the derailment, but said major safety reforms will have to wait until the NTSB investigation is completed, which could take longer. one year.
Credit: Associated Press
Haley BeMiller is a USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau reporter serving the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations in Ohio.
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