Ohio AG Sues NS Over East Palestine Derailment

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Aerial photograph of the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment site, courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Aerial photograph of the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment site, courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The office of Ohio Attorney General (AG) Dave Yost on March 14 reported filing a civil lawsuit in federal court seeking to hold Norfolk Southern (NS) “financially responsible for the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine that caused the release of over 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals, ‘recklessly endangering’ both the health of area residents and Ohio’s natural resources.” NS responds.

The state of Ohio should not have to “bear the tremendous financial burden,” said Yost, noting that the “fallout from this highly preventable incident may continue for years to come, and there’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects on our air, water and soil.” NS has said that it will make the situation right, according to Yost, who added: “This lawsuit will make sure that Norfolk Southern keeps its word.”

Filed in U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Ohio, the lawsuit cites NS’s “escalating accident rate, which has risen 80% in the past 10 years,” according to Yost’s office. “At least 20 Norfolk Southern derailments since 2015 have involved chemical discharges.”

The lawsuit also alleges that NS has violated 58 federal and state environmental laws and Ohio Common Law, according to Yost’s office. The violations, it said, generally fall under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); Ohio’s Hazardous Waste Law; Ohio’s Water Pollution Control Law; Ohio’s Solid Waste Law; Ohio’s Air Pollution Control Law; Common Law Negligence; Common Law Public Nuisance; and Common Law Trespass. The Common Law violations, the office noted, “include negligence counts relating to defects in the train and the train’s operation. The nuisance counts encompass the chemical releases into the air, public waterways and public land, and the trespass counts address the contamination of natural resources.”

Yost’s office reported the AG is seeking “injunctive relief, civil penalties, costs, damages and court costs, including:

  • “A declaratory judgment holding Norfolk Southern responsible.
  • “Recovery of costs and damages under the CERCLA and Ohio law for emergency response.
  • “Repayment of damages under common law—notably, natural resource damages, property damages, and economic harm to the state and its residents.
  • “Repayment of costs under common law, including present and future costs incurred by the state in responding to the emergency, providing public services, preventing future harm to the environment and public health, restoring natural resources, and abating the nuisance.
  • “Civil penalties under state environmental laws.
  • “Repayment of court costs.”

NS on March 14 issued the following statement:

“Every day since the derailment, our goal has been to make it right for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities. We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive.

“We are also listening closely to concerns from the community about whether there could be long-term impacts from the derailment. This week, we met with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to discuss three additional programs we plan to develop in conjunction with his office and other community leaders and stakeholders.

“Many residents are worried about what they will do if health impacts related to the derailment are discovered years from now. We appreciate Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s leadership and advocacy on this point. To date, environmental monitoring continues to show the air and drinking water are safe. To provide an additional level of assurance, we are committed to a solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund.

“We also know residents are worried about their home values. While we are working with local leaders on investments to support the community’s long-term prosperity, we understand these concerns. We are committed to working with the community to provide tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the impact of the derailment.

“Finally, we have heard the community’s interest in programs that protect drinking water over the long term. We are prepared to work with stakeholders toward that goal as well.

“We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost and others as we coordinate with his office, community leaders, and other stakeholders to finalize the details of these programs.”

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