According to Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), the Senate’s Special Committee on Rail Safety will have its initial hearing to examine the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
The committee will convene in the Senate Finance Hearing Room on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. If the Senate’s voting session runs past that time, the committee will convene immediately after the chamber adjourns.
The committee, which is chaired by state Senator Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and Vice Chair state Senator Michael Rulli (R-Salem), will hear testimony and question representatives from government organizations and specialists who are on the ground in East Palestine.
Rulli, who’s district encompasses East Palestine, said that he appreciates his Senate colleagues working to find solutions.
“The derailment devastated the people in my district. I’m grateful that my colleagues in the Senate want to find ways to help,” Rulli said.
According to Huffman, it’s uncertain how much environmental damage will result from the derailment, therefore he wants a platform to discuss the knowledge that is already available.
“Ohioans see trains every day, and in some communities, it is a way of life, as children count the rail cars with their parents while stopped at a crossing. The mission of the Senate Select Committee is clear. We need a complete understanding of why it happened, where the recovery stands now, and determine exactly how the Ohio General Assembly can best help our neighbors in East Palestine recover,” Huffman said.
Also, according to Huffman, the hearing would enable state lawmakers to learn more as they evaluate the two-year budget that is presently before the House Finance Committee.
“I think it makes sense to consider what happened in this. It’s not just East Palestine. There are other villages involved. We don’t yet know the scope of the environmental damage. I think certainly by the operating budget time, we’ll have a better idea. Next week’s hearing might just be a kind of a first step as we gather information about that,” Huffman said.
The state transportation budget now includes ideas for maintaining two-person crews and other train-related proposals. Several train restrictions, according to Huffman, relate to interstate commerce, which is a federal matter; as a result, state legislators are unable to alter them. But he said that other items, such as grade crossings and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio‘s control over trains, may be.
Also serving on the committee, is Senate Transportation Committee Chair, state Senator Stephanie Kunze(R-Dublin), state Senator Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction), state Senator Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson), state Senator Al Landis (R-Dover), state Senator Louis W. Blessing, III (R-Colerain Township), Ranking Member Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), state Senator Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) and state Senator Catherine Ingram (D-Toledo).
Reportedly Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Anne Vogel, and other state officials will be in attendance for Wednesday’s meeting.
The Ohio Star reached out to the Ohio EPA and the Governor’s office to confirm if they will be in attendance but did not receive a reply before press time.
– – –
Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Matt Huffman” by The Ohio Senate. Background Photo “East Palestine, Ohio” by 636Buster. CC BY-SA 4.0.