President Joe Biden ordered federal agencies to continue holding Norfolk Southern accountable for its February derailment in eastern Ohio and appoint a FEMA official to oversee East Palestine’s recovery, but he still stopped short of declaring a disaster.

Biden issued the executive order Wednesday evening. Part of the order essentially directed the environmental, health and transportation officials to continue doing what they are doing to make sure Norfolk Southern fulfills its responsibilities and report on the progress. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will name a recovery coordinator to monitor the situation.

The lack of a disaster declaration has been a key concern for many residents of the area where the derailment happened near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, but officials have said this situation doesn’t easily fit the definition of a disaster because Norfolk Southern is paying to clean up the mess and help the town recover so unpaid bills aren’t piling up. The railroad has committed $95 million to the town already as part of a response the railroad expects to cost at least $803 million.

Still, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine requested a disaster declaration back in July to make sure any unmet needs would be covered if Norfolk Southern did renege in its often-stated promise to make things right in East Palestine.

East Palestine resident Jessica Conard said the order is a step in the right direction, but she is still left with more questions than answers.

“It’s a lofty title for an incremental change,” she said.

Of primary concern, she questions how the FEMA coordinator will effectively assess unmet needs of residents without chemical testing to their bodies or homes.

“I’m hopeful that we as residents can direct this narrative and that the emergency management services that are in place will support the residents through this process.”

The railroad has reimbursed residents for relocation costs since the derailment and compensated the fire department for equipment that was damaged while fighting the fire and dealing with the chemicals that were released after the derailment. Norfolk Southern has also promised to pay for upgrading East Palestine’s parks and water treatment center. And just Thursday, the Atlanta-based railroad announced plans to build a $20 million training center for first responders in East Palestine.

Norfolk Southern has also said it will establish funds to pay for lost home values, any long-term health concerns and water contamination issues that result from the derailment. The railroad announced a preliminary program to compensate homeowners earlier this week although the final details of those funds are still being negotiated with Ohio officials.

The railroad said it is committed to helping East Palestine now and in the future.

“From the beginning, Norfolk Southern has committed to making it right in East Palestine and covering all costs associated with the clean-up. In the months since, we have made significant progress, keeping our promises to safely and thoroughly clean the derailment site, support the needs of the community, and invest in its future,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement.

Jami Wallace, who helps lead the East Palestine Unity Council group that’s trying to get residents’ concerns addressed, said she thinks it would be better if the federal government would step in and compensate residents directly and then seek reimbursement from the railroad instead of forcing residents to deal with Norfolk Southern.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who cosponsored a package of railroad safety reforms after the derailment that’s still awaiting a vote in the Senate, said it’s important to make sure that Norfolk Southern delivers on all of its promises.

“This is an overdue but welcomed step to support the people of East Palestine,” said Brown. “There is still much more work to do to make this community whole and I will continue to push the administration to deliver for East Palestine and hold Norfolk Southern accountable.”

The White House said that if FEMA identifies needs that aren’t being met or if Norfolk Southern changes the aid it is offering, it will reassess the disaster declaration.

___

Associated Press reporter Patrick Orsagos contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.

Source link

You May Also Like

Our favorite travel pants to keep you comfortable on the go | CNN Underscored

Long travel days can test your patience, but you don’t have to…

Rare Blizzard Takes Aim at Southern California

A slow-moving winter storm will intensify over California on Friday, forecasters said,…

Once valued at $47 billion, WeWork warns of

Once worth as much as $47 billion, WeWork is now warning that…

‘I wouldn’t touch [them] with anybody’s money’: Grant Cardone says these 2 big US cities are some of ‘the worst markets to be in right now’ for real estate investors — here’s why

Prolific real estate investor Grant Cardone has singled out two U.S. property…