Yost to hold community discussion in East Palestine

FILE - Ohio Republican Attorney General Dave Yost speaks during an election night watch party, Nov. 8, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. A coalition of voting-rights groups is vowing to fight on after Yost issued his second rejection Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, of petition language it has submitted for a proposed constitutional amendment. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is seeking public feedback on the U.S. Department of Justice preliminary settlement with Norfolk Southern.

Yost will hold a community discussion Saturday in the East Palestine High School Gymnasium from 2-4 p.m. to hear comments from the community concerning the $310 million settlement between the railroad and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division filed suit against Norfolk Southern on behalf of the EPA in March 2023 on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio. The complaint sought “penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants, oil, and hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act, and declaratory judgment on liability for past and future costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.”

On May 23 , the EPA and DOJ announced the settlement with Norfolk Southern, and Yost immediately spoke out against the agreement in a joint statement with U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio. Both believe a settlement should not have been considered until the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the cause of the derailment and the events that followed it is complete.

“This federal settlement, reached prior to the completion of the NTSB’s investigation, risks undercompensating the residents of East Palestine,” Vance and Yost said. “The Department of Justice would have better served East Palestine and surrounding communities by negotiating against Norfolk Southern armed with all relevant facts surrounding the disaster — facts which can only be revealed by the NTSB. The residents of East Palestine deserve full compensation to account for the hardships they have faced in the months since the derailment, but they also deserve the full truth about why the derailment and vent and burn occurred. With its decision to reach a settlement now, the DOJ may have sacrificed its opportunity to use the NTSB’s findings to impose maximum leverage on those responsible for any potential wrongdoing. We are reviewing the now-public settlement proposal, but with so much unknown at this time, it is difficult to assess its impact. We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure those impacted by the derailment are made whole and to ensure anyone responsible for wrongdoing is held accountable.”

The settlement still requires approval from a federal judge for the Northern District of Ohio. That approval is expected within 30 days, but Yost’s office wants that approval to wait until Aug. 1 — after the final NTSB final report is expected.

The NTSB will hold a public board meeting on June 25 at the East Palestine High School Gymnasium where board members will vote on the final findings, probable cause and recommendations. The board will also vote on any changes to the draft final report. Last year the NTSB held a two-day investigative hearing in East Palestine.

The NTSB has questioned the decision to vent and burn five tank cars of vinyl chloride in the days following the rail disaster. In March, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy challenged the narrative that incident command faced just two choices in the days following the derailment — a controlled burn of the five tanks cars or the uncontrolled explosion. Homendy said a third option of waiting for the tanks to cool down was not presented to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro or East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick, despite evidence temperatures inside the tanks were decreasing and despite OxyVinyls (the company transporting the gas) expert opinion that polymerization was not taking place.

The joint statement from Yost and Vance said the state of Ohio should been consulted before the EPA agreeing to the settlement, which requires Norfolk Southern to pay a $15 million civil penalty to resolve the alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, $25 million for a 20-year community health program, $15 million to implement long-term monitoring of groundwater and surface water and an additional $15 million to fund a drinking water monitoring fund, noting that Ohio “bore the brunt of the damage caused by this derailment.”


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