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Pennsylvania governor announces ‘criminal referral’ for Norfolk Southern in wake of Ohio train disaster

‘We will remain vigilant for any threats to Pennsylvanians,’ Shapiro says

Maroosha Muzaffar
Wednesday 22 February 2023 16:59 GMT
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Pennsylvania governor announces criminal referral in Ohio train derailment disaster

Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro said on Tuesday his office has made a “criminal referral” against Norfolk Southern in response to the recent Ohio train derailment.

During a conference in East Palestine, Ohio, Mr Shapiro said: “We’ve made a criminal referral to the acting attorney general in Pennsylvania to review, and acting attorney general (Michelle) Henry can speak to that beyond my comments.”

The conference was also attended by Ohio governor Mike DeWine and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan and other officials.

He added: “We will remain vigilant for any threats to Pennsylvanians. In the face of Norfolk Southern’s arrogance and incompetence, I want you to know that we are fighting back.”

In response, Michelle Henry’s office expressed “outrage” in a statement: “We have just received a criminal referral from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and will act quickly to investigate this incident, gather the facts, and then evaluate the evidence to make a determination under Pennsylvania law.”

The statement added: “Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, and we will not hesitate to hold anyone or any company responsible for environmental crimes in our Commonwealth.”

The Pennsylvania governor stated that the “combination of Norfolk Southern’s corporate greed, incompetence and lack of care for our residents is absolutely unacceptable”.

“I’ve been outspoken about the serious concerns that I had with the company’s failed management of this crisis ... They gave us inaccurate information and conflicting modelling data, and they refused to explore or articulate alternative courses of action when we were dealing with the derailment in the early days,” he added.

Mr DeWine said that he and Mr Shapiro have both talked about the need for Congress to take a “hard look at rail safety”.

“There is something fundamentally wrong when a train like this can come into a state, and the current law does not require them – despite what they were hauling – to notify the state or local officials. That simply has to be changed.”

On 3 February the derailment of a train loaded with toxic chemicals in East Palestine caused a fire and sent a cloud of smoke over the town.

The derailment of the train, operated by Norfolk Southern, forced thousands of residents to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned off chemicals. There were no reported fatalities or injuries, but residents have been demanding answers about potential health risks.

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