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“We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open”
The latest on the East Palestine train derailment and airborne toxic event
PRESENTED BY ANGUS TURNSTONE
National mainstream media is entranced by balloons and football games, but East Palestine1, Ohio’s train derailment and airborne toxic event deserves continuous coverage. A week ago, I reported that the wreckage of the toxic Norfolk Southern train was still burning, though officials had claimed to have burned off most of the vinyl chloride. Here are more than a few updates:
When rail workers were threatening to go on strike in December, Ohio rail union representative Clyde Whitaker warned how bad conditions were for both workers and the trains themselves with labor journalist John Russell. At the time, Whitaker noted the catastrophic derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in Sandusky, Ohio in October that spilled paraffin wax, worrying that a train carrying volatile materials could be next. Congress and President Joe Biden blocked the strike in the name of the economy.
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While I noticed the eerie similarity of this disaster to the fictional events in Don DeLillo’s book White Noise, I did not know that residents of East Palestine had been extras in the Noah Baumbach film adaptation filmed in Ohio in 2021.
On Tuesday, dead fish were found in several creeks downstream from the derailment. At a press conference, Kurt Kollar with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Emergency Response “said they are monitoring the situation.” Kollar claimed that “well water should be safe to drink, despite contaminated surface water.”
On Wednesday, NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert was arrested and thrown in jail by the East Palestine Police Department during a press conference on the train derailment with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine for the crime of talking while the governor was speaking.
On Saturday, East Palestine police announced on Facebook that the Potable Well Task Group, contractors for Norfolk Southern, would be going door-to-door to tell residents “identified as having ‘At Risk’ drinking water wells.”
Norfolk Southern has been offering $1,000 “inconvenience fee” checks to East Palestine residents, but attorney Michael O’Shea, who represents several local families, is warning they may be an “attempt to limit potentially larger payouts.”
On Sunday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that in addition to the previously reported vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, and benzene residue, the train cars also held ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene. “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open,” Sil Caggiano, a hazardous materials specialist, told WKBN reporter Jen Rodriguez.
Video footage has been discovered showing that the train traveled with a fiery axle for at least 20 miles before derailing.
The Lever’s Julia Rock and Rebecca Burns expose how Pete Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation has failed to reinstate rail safety rules removed under Trump that could have prevented the crash. They note that rail safety expert Grady Cothen warned Congress in a hearing on rail safety last June that the failure to act guaranteed “more derailments, more releases of toxic chemicals.” At the same hearing, Norfolk Southern COO Cynthia Sanborn implausibly claimed “pursuing safe operations is not optional; it’s a business imperative.”
The Lever also exposes how Norfolk Southern successfully lobbied to block safety regulations and to exclude toxic-chemical trains from the definition of “high-hazard flammable trains” that require greater safety checks. “Amid the lobbying blitz against stronger transportation safety regulations, Norfolk Southern paid executives millions and spent billions on stock buybacks — all while the company shed thousands of employees despite warnings that understaffing is intensifying safety risks.”
The Republican-run House is on break for two weeks but the Senate is in session. On Wednesday, new Senate Budget chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) hosts a hearing on climate-related economic risks, with an all-white-male panel of witnesses: Canadian economist and investment banker Mark Carney (formerly Goldman Sachs, Bank of Canada, and Bank of England); economist and investment banker Robert Litterman (formerly Goldman Sachs, now chair of the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission); and economist and Republican activist Douglas Holtz-Eakin (formerly George H.W. Bush administration and Congressional Budget Office).
On Thursday, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) chairs the Senate Agriculture committee’s next Farm Bill hearing, taking testimony from USDA officials on nutrition programs (familiarly, food stamps and WIC).
Don’t think that the Republicans running the House are simply on vacation. They’re making sure to promote climate destruction. Republicans are holding two field hearings this week in Midland, Texas, to tout the explosive growth of oil and gas fracking in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico:
On Monday, Rep. Bruce Stauber (R-Minn.)’s Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee of House Natural Resources celebrates the Permian climate bomb at the University of Texas Permian Basin Midland Campus with New Mexico oil and gas lobbyist Doug Ackerman, Texas oil and gas lobbyist Tracee Bentley (a former staffer for Sen. John Hickenlooper when he was the Democratic governor of Colorado), and Republican New Mexico state senator David Gallegos, who joined the state legislature after thirty years in the natural gas industry.
On Thursday, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C)’s Energy, Climate, and Grid Security subcommittee of House Energy & Commerce celebrates the Permian climate bomb at the Barbara and George H.W. Bush Convention Center. Witnesses have not yet been announced.