State Lawmakers Still Have Questions After Hearing From Norfolk Southern CEO

App users, tap here to watch video report.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — State lawmakers still have questions after Norfolk Southern President and CEO, Alan Shaw, testified in front of a State Senate Committee on Monday.

Shaw was in the hot seat at the State Capitol as members of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee questioned him in person for the first time.

Throughout his testimony, Shaw apologized for the impact of the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, OH, less than a mile from the Pennsylvania border. Shaw vowed to help those afflicted, saying he is determined to make things right.

“You have my personal commitment. We will get the job done and we will help these communities thrive,” said Shaw.

However, senators from both parties expressed concern about the accident, the response, and questioned if conditions were truly safe for nearby residents following the vent and burn.

“It’s really difficult, especially based on symptoms reported by those who live in that community, that if people had rashes and can’t breathe and are having respiratory distress, and if you weren’t real-time monitoring in their homes or around their homes during this burn, I don’t know how anyone can say that it worked or that no harm was done,” said Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery). “Because if you’re burning off things during that burn, you could argue the highest contaminant level would be during the burn,” she added.

Lawmakers still have questions regarding the types of chemicals that were involved and if the correct chemicals were, and currently are being, tested for. One of the main priorities of senators in Monday’s hearing was trying to figure out who had the final say in the vent and burn on Feb. 6.

“Based on the conditions on the ground, as we knew them, there was concern about an uncontrolled, catastrophic explosion that would shoot harmful chemicals and shrapnel throughout the area. The decision made by unified command, under the direction of the incident commander, was a controlled vent and burn,” said Shaw, standing by the decision on Feb. 6.

Committee Chairman, Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams/Franklin), said there was nothing controlled about the burn.

“We don’t control atmospheric dispersion; we could guess at it. I just can’t accept any idea that any of this was controlled,” said Mastriano.

Senators continued to push Shaw on who made the decision to vent and burn.

“Who are these people, is there a specialist. Who made the final decision of we’re going to do this burn,” asked Sen. Muth.

“It’s not a hard question,” said Mastriano. “Who was the triggerman, who was the guy that said ‘yes’ we’re going to do this,” asked Mastriano.

Shaw repeatedly replied the decision was made by the unified command, with the incident commander having the final say. Shaw said the incident commander was the local fire chief in East Palestine.

“My understanding is that the unified command was aligned on this, and it was ultimately the decision of the incident commander – the fire chief, in conjunction with Governor DeWine, who was there as well,” said Shaw.

“So, your cars are on fire, it’s your rail, it’s your incident, and you’re going to leave it to a local fire chief who has probably never had to deal with such a catastrophe before,” asked Mastriano.

Senators pressed Shaw for over an hour in total. Mastriano remains skeptical that the decision was up to the local fire chief.

“I don’t buy it that a local fire chief signed off on it,” said Mastriano after the hearing.

Mastriano is hoping for more transparency throughout the process.

“Norfolk Southern said they’re in it for the long-haul. I sure hope so. This is going to be a long-haul solution to a long-haul problem,” said Mastriano.

Norfolk Southern has pledged more than $7 million pledged to the commonwealth for impacted communities. Shaw said the company is also in the early stages of developing long-term medical compensation, water testing, and property assurance programs. Lawmakers still want more answers, like how long is long-term? Who is eligible for that compensation? Will they expand compensation eligibility beyond the original “ground zero” radius and into further communities, where residents have reported various health complications, lost profits, and other issues?

Mastriano said Shaw may be called to appear before the committee again if the committee does not receive answers to the questions posed by its members.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.