UPDATE 1-CEO to tell US Congress Norfolk Southern 'committed' to aid after derailment
(Adds more details, Ohio governor letter)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) -
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw will tell lawmakers Wednesday the railroad is "committed" to addressing potential long-term health issues and home value impacts from a Feb. 3 Ohio derailment.
"We are committed to a solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund," Shaw will tell the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee in written testimony seen by Reuters. He added the railroad is committed "to provide tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the impact of the derailment."
Ohio sued Norfolk Southern last week over the derailment that released over a million gallons of hazardous materials and pollutants into the environment around the town of East Palestine.
"This derailment was entirely avoidable," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said.
Shaw will say the railroad has made an initial investment of more than $24 million including $9.5 million to more than 5,800 families.
Shaw said the railroad will work with the community on programs to protect drinking water over the long term. "We are prepared to work with stakeholders toward that goal as well," his testimony says.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted wrote Shaw on Tuesday urging him to "champion all good faith efforts to improve rail safety."
Shaw's testimony says the railroad supports aspects and principles of bipartisan rail safety legislation including supporting regulator reviews of regulations for rail car inspections and standards for freight car safety and accelerating the phaseout of older tank car models.
Shaw's testimony did not
address other aspects of the legislation
such as requiring two-person crews and hiking maximum civil penalties for railroads from from $225,000 to 1% of a railroad annual operating income.
"We need to continue working to improve railway safety," Shaw's testimony says.
Shaw apologized at a March 9 Senate Environment and Public Works hearing, pledging to improve safety and address impacts including thoroughly cleaning the site: "I am committed to doing what's right for the community."
Last week, Yost met with Norfolk Southern and discussed several issues including long-term medical compensation, real estate values and improving East Palestine's water treatment.
"This lawsuit is designed to make sure that Norfolk Southern keeps their word to the people of East Palestine," Yost said.
"We look forward to working toward a final resolution with all relevant stakeholders to finalize the details of these programs," Shaw's testimony says.
Since the Ohio derailment caused cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals to spill and catch fire, Norfolk Southern has been under pressure over a number of train derailments.
No deaths or injuries were reported after the incident but since the derailment, some of East Palestine's 4,700 residents have reported ailments such as rashes and breathing difficulties and some fear long-term health effects. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)