The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Friday against Norfolk Southern Corp., owner of the 50-car train that derailed almost two months ago in East Palestine, Ohio.
The complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, seeks penalties for what it says was the unlawful discharge of pollutants, oil, and hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act.
The Justice Department also is asking for a declaratory judgment on liability for past and future costs under a law called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
Specifically, the lawsuit asks for $64,618 per day for every violation of the Clean Water Act. The government also seeks fines of $55,808 per day or $2,231 per barrel of hazardous substance.
The complaint comes almost two months after the Feb. 3 train derailment, during which East Palestine residents, elected officials, and others heavily criticized the federal government’s response. It also arrives the same week that train derailments occurred in North Dakota and Minnesota.
“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a public statement. “With this complaint, the Justice Department and the EPA are acting to pursue justice for the residents of East Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern carries the financial burden for the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”
A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern didn’t directly address the complaint when asked about it by The Daily Signal, but noted that the company had completed more than 595 air monitoring tests, cleaned 87 homes and numerous facilities, and committed about $28 million to the community.
“Our job right now is to make progress every day cleaning up the site, assisting residents whose lives were impacted by the derailment, and investing in the future of East Palestine and the surrounding areas,” Norfolk Southern’s senior communications manager, Connor Spielmaker, said in an email responding to an inquiry about the federal government’s court case.
“We are working with urgency, at the direction of the U.S. EPA, and making daily progress,” Spielmaker said. “That remains our focus and we’ll keep working until we make it right.”
The derailment in the Ohio town of 4,700 residents occurred while the train was carrying hazardous materials such as vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and benzene residue.
Officials evacuated residents whose homes are near the derailment site, which is close to the Pennsylvania state line.
On Feb. 5, two days after the derailment, Norfolk Southern did a controlled burn of five rail cars containing vinyl chloride. This resulted in additional releases, according to the Justice Department and EPA. About 9.2 million gallons of wastewater and an estimated 12,932 tons of contaminated soils and solids were shipped off-site, the federal agencies said.
“From the very beginning, I pledged to the people of East Palestine that EPA would hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for jeopardizing the community’s health and safety,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a public statement.
“No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced,” Regan said. “With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to ensure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess they made and pays for the damage they have inflicted as we work to ensure this community can feel safe at home again.”
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