Facing growing scrutiny, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw will confront lawmakers Thursday in his first appearance on Capitol Hill since the Feb. 3 train derailment that caused a toxic chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio And the evacuation took place.
The CEO of Norfolk Southern Railway will be on the hot seat at a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee hearing as senators question him about cleanup efforts and recent accidents involving the rail company.
Shaw plans to tell lawmakers that he is “deeply sorry” for the impact the Ohio train derailment has had on the people of East Palestine and neighboring communities and that he is “determined to make it right,” According to written testimony obtained by NBC News.
“We will clean up the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency. We are making progress every day,” Shaw would tell members.
This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it is launching a special investigation into the organization and safety culture of Norfolk Southern Railway. Since December 2021, the NTSB said it had opened investigative teams for five significant incidents involving Norfolk Southern, including the derailment of a freight train near Springfield, Ohio, on Saturday and the death of a Norfolk Southern employee on Tuesday. He was killed during the collision.
The company announced a six-point plan on Monday to address the security concerns.
“While accidents happen, the residents of Ohio and Pennsylvania and the American people deserve answers, straight answers and they deserve accountability,” EPW Chairman Tom Capper, D-Del., said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is about getting answers and this is about restoring trust.”
Shaw, who is Norfolk Southern’s president and CEO through May 2022, will appear alongside Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Debra Shore; Anne Vogel, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; and local officials who can speak to the environmental impact of a train derailment on the community.
Two senators from Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican JD Vance, as well as Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., will testify during an earlier panel. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET.
Residents of East Palestine have said they are fearful and concerned about possible exposure to dangerous chemicals there, with the air and water abstaining from drinking water despite assurances by federal officials that it is safe.
The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up any soil and water contamination and pay for it.
Shaw will detail Thursday how the company is working with the EPA on a long-term removal plan that will guide testing on water, air and soil quality. And he will stress the importance of providing financial assistance to affected residents, noting that the company has “committed to total reimbursement and investments of more than $20 million” helping 4,200 families and first responders in East Palestine.
“Financial aid can’t change what happened, but it’s an important part of doing the right thing,” Shaw would say in his statement. “I want to be clear: this financial aid is only a down payment. … We will continue to invest in East Palestine as long as it takes to help the community recover and flourish.”
As of Monday, at least 18 lawsuits had been filed against the company.
The Biden administration will also face criticism at Thursday’s hearing. West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the panel, took aim at the EPA during a call with Carper and reporters on Wednesday.
“Personally, I think the EPA failed. … There was confusion, data was delayed, and there was a sense that nobody really cared. So, if you I’m thinking, you leave, you come back, is your water safe, is your air clean?” Capito said.
“So we’re going to ask, you know, why did it take the EPA administrator three weeks before the water was actually drinkable? He was telling everybody it was safe. Why did it take a month to set up a response center?”