HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — This week, Pennsylvania House lawmakers held a hearing in Beaver County on the East Palestine, OH train derailment. It’s been over 40 days since the Norfolk Southern train transporting hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, less than a mile from the Pennsylvania border. Concerns still linger for many.
“This was a major public problem. This was not just some isolated private issue that you can clean up and move on from,” said State Representative Josh Kail (R-Beaver/Washington). “I think the biggest problem is all the questions that are out there that have gone unanswered, what the long-term impact is, whether there is going to be a significant impact- those questions still haven’t been answered,” Kail added.
At the House Policy Committee hearing, Kail says the administration expressed cautious optimism about recent testing. However, he says the state needs to make sure its testing for the right chemicals. He still has many questions for Norfolk Southern.
“What exactly was on that train,” Kail asked, adding a lack of transparency since the derailment on Feb. 3 has led to confusion. “Trying to understand why information was withheld, why the wrong information was given,” he added.
Local residents, especially farmers, say mounting distrust is costing them.
“On February 28, the phone call came, canceled their order for this year,” said Mike Carreon, a local cattle farmer and Darlington Township Supervisor.
Carreon says customers have canceled orders over concerns regarding the impact on cattle.
“You have all the money invested up until that point of taking that animal to a butcher, and when that customer cancels, their only option then is to go to sale barn, and that’s bottom dollar market. You won’t even recoup your expenses,” said Carreon.
From lost profits to health complications, state lawmakers say they’re committed to doing whatever it takes to help affected residents.
“We’re going to be working with the administration to make sure that these dollars are properly going back to that community, to help the residents there, to help the first responders on the ground,” said Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie), Chairman of the House Majority Policy Committee. “Ohio, just recently filed suit against Norfolk Southern. I’m sure Pennsylvania’s not going to be too far behind,” Bizzarro added.
Earlier this month, Governor Josh Shapiro said Norfolk Southern has agreed to pay over $7 million to the Commonwealth as a result of the derailment. That includes a $1 million community relief fund for businesses and residents who’ve lost money.
Some residents at the hearing say it may not be enough to make up for their losses.
Moving forward, House lawmakers have a few top priorities. First, they want to make sure the administration continues to test air, water, soil and ensure that the conversation continues, they say this is a long-term issue. Second, they say Norfolk Southern needs to stay engaged and provide relief for affected residents. Lastly, they’re looking at legislation to promote rail safety and transparency in order to prevent a similar disaster in the future.
“There’s some conversation about railway safety. The federal government has jurisdiction because of the interstate commerce. There are a couple of things that we’re looking at as far as safety as it travels through Pennsylvania,” said Kail. “I do think something that we absolutely have to look at very closely is the transparency, ensuring that local communities know what is traveling through their communities, at least their emergency responders have some understanding in case something does happen so that they know what they’re up against,” Kail added.