Ohio state senators questioned Shaw over a wide range of topics related to the derailment and subsequent controlled release of toxic chemicals that negatively impacted the environment and the health and safety of residents, including long-term community assistance programs, two-person crew requirements, and safety requirements for tanker cars.
Shaw expressed support for some additional safety measures but showed resistance to others.
Shaw has pledged millions of dollars to assist the community in recovering but also faces a lawsuit from Ohio’s Attorney General Dave Yost over costs for the cleanup of the toxic chemical spill and environmental damage even as they collaborate to establish funds for resident health care, property value issues, and water protections. The federal government is also suing the railroad.
Financial support, according to Shaw, is part of doing the right thing even though it cannot undo what has already occurred.
“We are investing in the communities we serve. We invested over $210 million in the state of Ohio alone. We want to be good corporate citizens because our employees live in those communities as well. We have 13 employees who live in East Palestine,” Shaw said.
Shaw stated that he supports congressional efforts to pass legislation pertaining to railroad safety, which are being led by Ohio U.S. senators and representatives. This legislation will include provisions to strengthen tanker car regulations, increase funding for wayside detectors, and increase railroad inspection oversight.
Recently, Ohio legislators approved a state transportation budget to impose new rail safety requirements, including a two-person crew requirement, on Norfolk Southern and other railways operating through their state.
It is still up for discussion whether the state can enforce these rules. An industry trade organization, the Ohio Railroad Association, asserts that federal law preempts several aspects of the measure. According to state legislators, the General Assembly can enact state-wide safeguards to help secure constituents.
According to Shaw, he does not at this time support the legislation requiring two-person crews as there is no proof that crew size prevents derailments.
“We’re data-driven and we’re going to follow the science. At this point, I have not seen any data to provide a direct link between crew size and derailments,” Shaw said.
According to the Ohio EPA, Norfolk Southern has hauled approximately 12.6 million gallons of liquid wastewater out of East Palestine. There is currently a pile of approximately 8,900 tons of excavated soil waiting for removal from East Palestine versus 28,600 tons that have been removed.
The south rail line tracks are now open to commercial train traffic. The EPA expected Norfolk Southern to remove the north rail tracks starting on Wednesday in preparation for removing the impacted soil beneath.
“Every day, we’ve got 300 Norfolk Southern employees or contractor working on the environmental remediation,” Shaw said. “They’re working on community assistance and working on helping East Palestine thrive,” Shaw said.
According to Committee Chair Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin), it sounds like Norfolk Southern is “doing many of the things we hoped they would do.”
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]