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Norfolk Southern's $310 million deal prioritizes water

  • Norfolk Southern's $310 million deal prioritizes water
  • Settlement requires Norfolk Southern to pay for past and future cleanup costs, enhanced rail safety, civil penalty and health monitoring, among other provisions.

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United States Environmental Protection Agency. The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement on May 23rd valued at over $310 million with Norfolk Southern Railway Company holding the company accountable for addressing and paying for the damage caused by the Feb. 3, 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. If the settlement is approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Norfolk Southern will be required to take measures to improve rail safety, pay for health monitoring and mental health services for the surrounding communities, fund long-term environmental monitoring, pay a $15 million civil penalty, and take other actions to protect nearby waterways and drinking water resources.

Together with other response costs and rail safety enhancements, Norfolk Southern estimates that it will spend more than $1 billion to address the contamination and other harms caused by the East Palestine derailment and improve rail safety and operations.

In the hours following the derailment, EPA personnel arrived on site, and they have remained there to ensure that the people of East Palestine are protected and have the most up-to-date information. In those early days, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan promised that Norfolk Southern would be held accountable for its actions. Since then, as EPA and DOJ pursued a strong enforcement action to deliver on that commitment, EPA has continued to stay engaged in the community, directing cleanup activities, collecting air, water and soil samples, and participating in community meetings. The Administration has led a robust, multi-agency effort—including the Department of Transportation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services—to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to “supporting the people of East Palestine and all those affected in surrounding areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania every step of the way.”

“No community should have to experience the trauma inflicted upon the residents of East Palestine,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “That’s why President Biden pledged from the beginning that his Administration would stand with the community every step of the way. This enforcement action delivers on this commitment, ensures the cleanup is paid for by the company, and helps prevent another disaster like this from happening again. Because of this settlement, residents and first responders will have greater access to health services, trains will be safer and waterways will be cleaner.

In total, Norfolk Southern estimates that it will spend more than $1 billion to address the contamination caused by the East Palestine derailment

“The President issued an executive order which promised to address the disaster’s long-term effects and to hold Norfolk Southern responsible for its train derailing and the burning of hazardous chemicals in East Palestine. This settlement helps fulfill that promise,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “Importantly, those who will most directly benefit from this settlement are those who were most directly affected by the disaster. And the rail safety commitments will help prevent future catastrophic railway events.”

The settlement follows a complaint filed by the United States against Norfolk Southern in March 2023 for unlawful discharges of pollutants and hazardous substances caused by the train derailment. In February 2023, EPA issued a unilateral administrative order, holding Norfolk Southern accountable for the damage done to the community. The order required cleanup of spilled substances and impacted soils, as well as payment of all costs to the U.S. government. EPA also issued an order under the Clean Water Act to clean up oil spilled into the surrounding waterways. Since then, EPA has been directing and overseeing the extensive cleanup activities.

In total, Norfolk Southern estimates that it will spend more than $1 billion to address the contamination caused by the East Palestine derailment and improve rail safety and operations, which includes this settlement with the United States valued at over $310 million, as well as around $780 million in environmental response costs incurred by Norfolk Southern. Norfolk Southern has estimated its costs since the derailment will exceed $200 million in rail safety enhancements, including those required by this settlement.

To help ensure that no community goes through what East Palestine residents have faced, the settlement also requires Norfolk Southern to improve coordination with government officials and other stakeholders during emergency responses. Specifically, Norfolk Southern will create and adopt a procedure for coordinating with first responders and government officials, where appropriate, before restoring and reopening tracks for use after a derailment involving spilled hazardous material. Norfolk Southern will also create and adopt a procedure for coordinating with government officials and other stakeholders in advance of any vent and burn proposed by the company.

Under the settlement, Norfolk Southern has agreed to:

  • Spend an estimated $235 million for all past and future costs, so that cleanup efforts can continue and the company, rather than taxpayers, covers the cost.
  • Pay a $15 million civil penalty to resolve the alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.
  • Pay $25 million for a 20-year community health program that includes medical monitoring for qualified individuals and mental health services for individuals residing in affected counties – including those in Pennsylvania – as well as first responders who worked at the site, and a community facilitation plan to assist community members in using the benefits of the program.
  • Spend approximately $15 million to implement long-term monitoring of groundwater and surface water for a period of 10 years.
  • Pay $15 million for a private drinking water monitoring fund that will continue the existing private drinking water well monitoring program for 10 years.
  • Implement a “waterways remediation plan,” with an estimated budget of $6 million, for projects in Leslie Run and Sulphur Run that will prioritize addressing historical pollution, reducing non-point source pollution through infrastructure upgrades and stormwater management projects, and restoring aquatic and riparian habitat.
  • Pay $175,000 for natural resource damages, to be used by the United States to restore, rehabilitate, replace, or acquire the equivalent of the natural resources injured as a result of the derailment.

In addition, the consent decree requires Norfolk Southern to undertake projects to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail, which will include installation of additional devices to detect overheated wheel bearings early enough to prevent derailments like the one that happened in East Palestine. All told, Norfolk Southern has estimated its costs dating from the derailment will exceed $200 million in rail safety enhancements.

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