by Anthony Hennen
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw did not appear in front of Pennsylvania lawmakers on Wednesday, but is expected to do so later this month and provide documents that track the rail company’s response to the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee announced Shaw will testify March 20 and advanced resolutions to recognize the impact of the derailment on Pennsylvania communities along with an emergency grant program to provide financial relief to affected residents.
At the beginning of March, the committee subpoenaed Shaw to answer questions about the emergency response to the derailment and the wisdom of the rail company’s decision to, as one lawyer described it, “drain all the cars and light (chemicals) on fire in a ditch.”
Shaw did not appear because he will testify in front of Congress on March 9, delaying his appearance in Pennsylvania.
“The subpoena includes all the correspondences, communications related to the emergency created by the derailment and the decision to have that burn — we will not call it a controlled burn — that burn that spread contaminants throughout the area, as well as the hazmat response,” said Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Chambersburg, and chair of the committee.
The demands on Norfolk Southern weren’t viewed by lawmakers as antagonistic, however.
“This is going to be, from my understanding, a friendly subpoena,” said Sen. Cris Dush, R-Bellefonte. “They’re willing to comply with the documents sent and I have to say I’m actually grateful to see Norfolk Southern stepping up of late.”
On Monday, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced the rail company agreed to pay almost $8 million in damages to replace emergency services equipment, provide for a community relief fund, and other costs.
“All of that will come out of Norfolk Southern’s pockets,” Shapiro said during his budget address on Tuesday. “And let’s be clear. This is a floor, not a ceiling, for what they owe the people of Western Pennsylvania. My Administration will continue to do everything in our power to protect Pennsylvanians. We will be there as long as it takes.”
Lawmakers are looking to provide money to residents as well. Mastriano introduced a bill to create a Train Derailment Emergency Grant Program with funds to come from state and federal sources, along with those held legally responsible for the derailment.
“The citizens of the areas impacted by the train derailment did not ask for this. Businesses will be shuttered, property values will plummet, and personal medical expenses will accrue,” Mastriano wrote in a legislative memo. “This disaster occurred in a working-class region where many residents are of modest means. The emergency grant program will directly help those who have been impacted the most.”
During the committee meeting, the bill received its first consideration to advance.
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Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
Photo “Alan Shaw” by Alan Shaw.