The Environmental Protection Agency is blocking release of public information about the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which created an ecological disaster, alleges a lawsuit from The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project.
The push for more information comes as the EPA faces additional questions about a derailment Thursday in Minnesota of a 22-car train carrying ethanol and corn syrup, as well as a derailment Monday in North Dakota of a 70-car train carrying hazardous material.
Heritage’s Oversight Project filed the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, then filed a follow-up motion Monday for a preliminary injunction enjoining the EPA “from unlawfully impeding” the expedited access to records under the Freedom of Information Act. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
The Oversight Project is asking the federal court to order the EPA to process the FOIA request, dated Feb. 23, on an expedited basis.
The initial request sought records that include EPA communications with Congress, local government, and the Norfolk Southern Corp., owner of the train that derailed near East Palestine. The request also sought records about testing of air, water, and soil for contamination stemming from the derailment and resulting fire, when toxic chemicals were released.
Referencing the urgency and gravity of the matter, the Oversight Project’s initial FOIA request sought expedited delivery of the EPA documents. The federal agency has denied the expedited delivery.
The train derailment gained significant national media coverage for the Ohio town of 4,700, as well as a visit from former President Donald Trump the day before Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg arrived on the scene.
“I went there to investigate this ecological disaster in person on the same day Trump visited East Palestine,” Roman Jankowski, senior investigative counsel for the Oversight Project, told The Daily Signal in an email. (Jankowski also is an investigative columnist for The Daily Signal.)
“Many members of the news media, including myself, noted the chemical smell in the air throughout East Palestine,” Jankowski added. “The locals informed me about the lack of wildlife after the disaster. Apparently, EPA Administrator Michael Regan didn’t visit the same parts of East Palestine that I did.”
The federal public records law calls for expedited processing when there is a “compelling need” and “an urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity.”
Of the 50 train cars that derailed or were damaged by fire near East Palestine, 20 reportedly carried toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and glycol.
Government officials did a controlled burn Feb. 6, apparently sending more chemicals into the air.
“As a result of the train derailment and controlled burn, toxic chemicals were released into the air, surface soil, and surface water,” the Oversight Project’s lawsuit says, adding:
The spill affected 7 miles of streams and reportedly killed 3,500 fish. The governor signed an evacuation order for all residents in a 1-by-2-mile area surrounding East Palestine. Yet in spite of this environmental disaster, videos of dead animals, and health complaints by the locals, the EPA has repeatedly assured the residents of East Palestine that the town is safe for residents and there are no dangerous levels of chemicals in the air or water.
In a March 2 letter from Gail Davis, a specialist with EPA’s freedom of information team, to Mike Howell, director of Heritage’s Oversight Project, the agency said the request for records doesn’t justify speedy processing.
“More specifically, while you referenced news reports regarding the train derailment which took place in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, your justification does not show that the records you request in enumerated paragraphs #1-20 are tailored to aspects of that incident that are urgently needed to inform the public about government activity,” Davis’ letter says, and adding that “your request for expedited processing is denied.”
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.