President Joe Biden has issued an executive order to hold Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern accountable for the fallout from its February derailment that spilled hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, and to protect those who live in the area.
“It is critical that Norfolk Southern continue to be held fully accountable under the law for this disaster, and continue to provide resources to address the effects in East Palestine and surrounding communities,” the order issued Wednesday evening said.
The order directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to designate a federal disaster recovery coordinator who will oversee long-term recovery efforts in affected communities and assess unmet needs in those communities, including those that would qualify for federal assistance.
The railroad issued a statement Wednesday evening saying: “From the beginning, Norfolk Southern has committed to making it right in East Palestine and covering all costs associated with the clean-up.”
“In the months since, we have made significant progress, keeping our promises to safely and thoroughly clean the derailment site, support the needs of the community, and invest in its future,” Norfolk Southern said. “We remain committed to East Palestine today, and into the future, and will continue to work closely with federal, state, and local leaders.”
Biden’s order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to submit reports to the president on cleanup efforts “and whether Norfolk Southern continues to comply” with EPA’s order to perform the cleanup.
And, the order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor public health consequences of the derailment, including any long-term health issues — and consider whether that warrants a declaration of a public health emergency. If Ohio and Pennsylvania officials want to submit a proposal for Medicaid services for those affected by the derailment, HHS will assist them with that, according to the order.
HHS is also directed to submit a report to Biden summarizing conclusions from public health testing and assessments, as well as what HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have done to address health conditions related to the derailment.
“The report shall also explain the status of air, soil, surface water, groundwater, and drinking water sampling and monitoring,” the order says.
Biden also directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to submit a report on its actions in response to the derailment.
The executive order comes after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in July requested a major presidential disaster declaration related to the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine.
The executive order says that request will be held open, allowing the state of Ohio to submit new information on needs not addressed by Norfolk Southern.
On Monday, Norfolk Southern announced details of a home value assurance program for residents in East Palestine and some nearby areas who have sold their homes or will sell their homes, to compensate them for a decline in value. It’s an interim program for those property owners, since a long-term program has yet to be finalized.
“If the Administrator of FEMA receives such information from the State, including with respect to a change in the nature of assistance provided by Norfolk Southern, the Administrator shall immediately assess and submit a recommendation on whether a major disaster declaration is warranted,” the order says.
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