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By Sarah May on
 February 24, 2023

PA Gov. makes criminal referral against Norfolk Southern over derailment response

With the scandalous fallout from the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio showing no signs of abating comes news that neighboring Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) has just made a criminal referral to his state's attorney general, alleging that the company has shown “arrogance and incompetence” in its response to the crisis, as the Daily Wire reports.

According to Shapiro, the railroad filed to take part in concerted efforts initiated by state and local authorities from Ohio and Pennsylvania in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and he believes a probe is warranted into whether any criminality occurred.

Speaking to Leila Fadel of NPR on Wednesday, Shapiro said, “We made a criminal referral to the office of attorney general. They'll determine whether or not there was criminal activity.”

Shapiro continued, “What I know is that Norfolk Southern is governed every day, not by caring about the communities they send their trains through, but by corporate greed.”

The Daily Wire noted that the EPA this week ordered the railroad company to take the lead on the remediation of contaminated soil and water, repay the federal agency for any cleanup services provided to local businesses and residents, and participate in public meetings in the affected community to keep citizens apprised of status changes.

Further, the agency said that if the company did not comply and federal authorities were forced to do the work themselves, efforts would be made to “compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost” of necessary procedures.

Norfolk Southern told NPR that it already is footing the bill for cleanup and has no plans to stop doing so, saying, “We recognize that we have a responsibility, and we have committed to doing what's right for the residents of East Palestine. We are committed to thoroughly and safely cleaning the site, and we are reimbursing residents for the disruption this has caused in their lives.”

Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern, reiterated that position during an appearance on PBS NewsHour earlier in the week, pledging, “Yes, we're going to see this thing through. That's my commitment to the community of East Palestine.”

“We have made a lot of progress. We have got air monitoring, water monitoring. We're coordinating with the Ohio EPA,” Shaw said. “And we're going to invest in this community for the long haul and help this community recover and help this community thrive.”

Shapiro, however, expressed doubts about Shaw's promises, saying, “I don't believe for a second Norfolk Southern would do this on their own” if the federal government wasn't forcing his hand.

“And I'm frankly sick and tired of the way [Shaw] has acted like a king, as opposed to someone who's contrite and willing to work with the community to get it back up on its feet,” the governor added.

Now that Shapiro has made his criminal referral in the matter, Pennsylvania Acting Attorney General Michelle Henry is vowing a swift response, as CBS News notes.

Henry said on Wednesday, “We're outraged on behalf of the residents who have suffered the consequences of this catastrophe,” adding, “we have now received a criminal referral from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and are already acting quickly to investigate this incident, gather the facts in evidence, and then of course we're going to evaluate the facts, the evidence, and make a determination under Pennsylvania law.”

While Shapiro's determination to probe Norfolk Southern's potential culpability in what occurred in East Palestine is laudable, the governor has come under scrutiny himself for – along with Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine – signing off on the controversial decision to conduct the “controlled release” burn of the dangerous chemicals carried by the train. Whether his role in that potentially catastrophic choice is investigated in a similar fashion, only time will tell.

Written By:
Sarah May

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