WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, questioned witnesses, including the Norfolk Southern CEO, representatives from the EPA, and state and local officials, on the environmental, public health and safety impacts, and decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that occurred on Feb. 3, 2023.
During her first round of questions, Ranking Member Capito discussed shared responsibility in decision making, the EPA’s delays in dioxin testing, as well as the decision to halt the transport and disposal of hazardous waste.
During her second round of questions, Ranking Member Capito asked witnesses about the lack of clear risk communication and its impact on residents and those in the surrounding areas.
ON SHARED RESPONSIBILITY OF CLEANUP, MITIGATION DECISIONS: “It's my understanding, this is sort of a table setting question here, that no one, not the EPA, not the state, not Norfolk-Southern has been making these cleanup decisions in a vacuum. That instead, a unified command group of these entities and experts have all had input into these major decisions…is that a fair assessment that I made…that these decisions are not made individually? They're made by the unified command. You can shake your head? Yes. All right. Thank you.”
WHY IS THE EPA NOW HALTING HAZARDOUS WASTE DISPOSALS?: “I'm concerned now about something Senator Vance talked about, and this is the hazardous waste disposal that we're seeing right now. Apparently, there are piles and piles sitting there right now and not moving. And I understand that facilities in Michigan and Texas that received waste from East Palestine are some of the most qualified in the entire country. The U.S. Ecology facility in Michigan, for instance, had already accepted 360 tons of soil and 300 [thousand] gallons of liquid in full compliance with their permits. The EPA has stopped…they had failed to give us an answer on what legal authority you used to stop those trucks at the gates of the facility that had already been accepting large volumes of waste. You said in your statement that this is great news because it means the cleanup can continue to rapid pace. If it's still sitting there I would say that's in opposition to what we're seeing…this is just it goes to this whole mixed messages of what's going on here.”
WHY THE EPA DELAYED DIOXIN TESTING: “Why did you wait a month before you started to order the dioxin testing when the community was asking for this? Was that a decision that you made early on that it wasn't critical? Or how was this decision made?...I mean, the air issue, obviously 30 days late is a little bit well past the time when the intensity might have been felt more.”
ON EPA’S FAILURE TO DELIVER CLEAR MESSAGING STOKING CONFUSION, FEAR: “I'm still very disturbed about the communication issue…All I’m getting back to is if you're sitting here in East Palestine or in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, you're seeing this huge pile of hazardous materials and you're smelling it. I'm coming from this as being from a community of Charleston, West Virginia that had a chemical spill in the early 2000s that everybody told us was safe to drink, but it still smelled. And you just lose your trust in what people are telling you. And this is what the neighborhoods in the surrounding areas are doing. So then when I asked the question, where is this material going? Both Ms. Shore and Mr. Shaw said it's going somewhere but we don't know where. What is that due to trust?”
ON SUCCESSES OF ORSANCO (OHIO RIVER VALLEY WATER SANITATION COMMISSION): “That Ohio River feeds a lot of our water systems in West Virginia. So what's coming down through there and through is so critically important. ORSANCO does a great job. I know you did multiple testings, but why were you uniquely positioned to respond as well as you did? Your information was coming out quickly, your tests were coming out quickly. My understanding is your tests and Ohio’s tests were coming out much more quickly than the EPA’s test. Is there truth to that and why can you come and respond as quickly as this?”
IMPACT OF UNCLEAR, DELAYED COMMUNICATION: “I'm just looking at it from the eyes of a homeowner sitting in East Palestine seeing this mess in front of them and trying to figure out when can I make sure that I can bathe my child in the water and feel that it’s 100% safe? So do you all have any suggestions here on how to make communications better, quicker, faster, more accurate? Because if you leave a gap, you see what happens in the gap.”
Click HERE to watch Ranking Member Capito’s first round of questions.
Click HERE to watch Ranking Member Capito’s second round of questions.
Click HERE to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening statement.
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