WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro on Tuesday said that his office has made a criminal referral in response to the recent train derailment over the border in East Palestine, Ohio, and the aftereffects on the environment and nearby communities.
Shapiro shared the information during a press conference in East Palestine with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, EPA Administrator Michael Regan and other officials. A reporter had asked what actions the governors might take, such as penalizing Norfolk Southern, the rail company involved in the Feb. 3 derailment.
“We’ve made a criminal referral to the acting attorney general in Pennsylvania to review and Acting Attorney General [Michelle] Henry can speak to that beyond my comments,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro, a Democrat, served as the state’s attorney general before being elected governor last year. He did not provide any additional details about the referral.
A request for comment from Henry’s office was not immediately returned.
DeWine also signaled during the press conference that Ohio is also preparing to take legal action.
Attorney General Dave Yost “will certainly take the appropriate action. I can guarantee you that,” the Republican governor said.
At the press conference, the officials listed concrete actions the government is taking to address residents’ concerns about risks to their health and safety and to hold Norfolk Southern accountable.
“The combination of Norfolk Southern’s corporate greed, incompetence and lack of care for our residents is absolutely unacceptable,” Shapiro said. “I’ve been outspoken about the serious concerns that I had with the company’s failed management of this crisis … They gave us inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data and they refused to explore or articulate alternative courses of action when we were dealing with the derailment in the early days.”
DeWine said the communities living near the area where the train derailed are “traumatized,” saying that residents are not just concerned about the current situation but potential long-term repercussions.
During the press conference, Regan announced a sweeping enforcement action against Norfolk Southern that compels the rail company to conduct and pay for cleanup actions associated with the derailment of the 150-car train that carried toxic chemicals.
The order requires the company to identify and clean contaminated soil and water; pay any EPA costs, including reimbursing the agency for cleaning services that it will offer to residents and businesses; and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and post information online.
The rail company already faces multiple class-action suits from members of the East Palestine community over the incident, which forced residents within roughly a mile radius to evacuate their homes.
Meanwhile, consumer advocate Erin Brockovich is planning a town hall in East Palestine for Friday. In an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, she reacted to footage of Regan and DeWine drinking an East Palestine resident’s tap water.
“In that moment, that condition could have been safe, but that’s not going to be how it’s always going to be,” she said. “We’re going to have to deal with how all these chemicals migrate through the water, where they hit the wells. So there’s so much more to this to ensure not only in a moment, but for the future, these people, their water and their health are not being jeopardized.”