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Speech

Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer Delivers Remarks on Over $310 Million Settlement with Norfolk Southern to Address Harms Caused by East Palestine Train Derailment

Location

Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Administrator Regan, for your remarks, and for your continued partnership with the Justice Department on this and so many other public health and safety matters.

The people of East Palestine have suffered tremendously from the Norfolk Southern train derailment that took place in their community last year. I am myself a proud native Ohioan and was honored to serve my home state as a public servant earlier in my career. So, it especially pained me last February to watch as train cars near East Palestine jumped the track, caught fire, spilled hazardous materials into the ground, and polluted the community’s air and waterways. I can only imagine the trauma that the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities felt that day — and have felt every day since — as they worried about their own health and safety as well as that of their friends, neighbors, and loved ones.

Last year, the President pledged that this Administration would support the people of East Palestine and the neighboring communities every step of the way. In March 2023 — the month following the derailment — the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern in federal court. And a little over a year later — thanks to the tireless efforts of the EPA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, and the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division — we have reached an unprecedented resolution of that suit. This resolution cannot undo the damage that was done last February. But we hope that this settlement will be an important step forward in protecting the community, helping it heal, and preventing a tragedy like this from happening again.

If approved, today’s settlement would require Norfolk Southern to pay more than $310 million to address the harms it caused. On top of the approximately $780 million that Norfolk Southern has already spent to address the contamination caused by the derailment, today’s settlement means that the company will spend more than $1 billion stemming from this incident.

This settlement will, first and foremost, help protect the health of the local community. Norfolk Southern has agreed to provide $25 million in free medical services for the next 20 years. This money will be used to expand the brick-and-mortar East Palestine Health Clinic opened by the East Liverpool City Hospital last year. This Community Health Program will offer full physicals, lab work, X-rays, and pulmonary function tests for residents and first responders — all free of charge. And it will provide community-focused counseling and mental health services in recognition of the trauma and anguish caused by the derailment.

The settlement also ensures that efforts to clean up the local environment will continue, and that they will be paid for entirely by Norfolk Southern, rather than by taxpayers. This cleanup has been extensive: It has focused on removal of hazardous substances like vinyl chloride that were released from damaged and burned rail cars onto the ground and into nearby waterways. It has also included cleaning services for many local homes and businesses. All told, the agreement binds Norfolk Southern to pay an estimated $235 million for the costs of past and future cleanup activities.

Alongside these significant health and cleanup services, the settlement commits Norfolk Southern to provide an additional 10 years of groundwater and surface water monitoring, to make sure there is no long-term contamination of local water supplies from spilled chemicals. Norfolk Southern will pay for continued private drinking well monitoring, so that residents have the peace of mind of knowing that their water is safe to drink. And Norfolk Southern has agreed to make significant improvements to rail safety and operations going forward, so that this sort of tragedy doesn’t recur.

I am grateful to U.S. Attorney Rebecca Lutzko and Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, as well as their incredibly talented attorneys and professional staff, who litigated the case and delivered this resolution. No community should have to live through what East Palestine residents have experienced over the past year. This settlement is a significant step toward making things right for this community. And it sends the message that the Justice Department stands with that community and is committed to its long-term health and recovery.

Thank you.


Updated May 23, 2024