Michael Regan: A White House Addressing the Environmental Hazards of the Cleveland, Ohio, EPA, and the Norfolk Southern Railroad Wreck
In East Palestine, Ohio, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed, bringing attention to the US Environmental Protection Agency and its leader Michael Regan.
Regan has traveled back and forth to East Palestine in recent weeks, meeting with residents and local and state officials, as federal efforts ramp up to address the wreck that unleashed plumes of black smoke and contaminated the soil at the crash site and some waterways.
Mike DeWine drank the tap water from an East Palestine house that was visited by Regan. The EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to handle and pay for any necessary environmental damage from the train carrying hazardous materials.
The Senate confirmed Regan as EPA administrator with a bipartisan vote in March 2021, making him the first Black man to lead the agency in its 50-year history. Lisa Jackson became the first African American to head the agency after his historic confirmation.
A Goldsboro, North Carolina, native and graduate of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Regan holds an undergraduate degree in environmental science and a master’s degree in public administration from The George Washington University, according to his EPA biography.
In his undergraduate years, Regan attended a historically Black college and was prepared for his administrator role. He said in the release that it strengthened his understanding of who he is and what he can do for society.
I had my first summer internship at the EPA, I knew I wanted to find a way to serve. I spent nearly ten years at EPA under presidents of both parties, and it was an honor to be invited back.
Regan has been one of the climate-focused members of President Joe Biden’s administration, playing a central part in the president’s efforts to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and investments in clean energy projects.
He also served as the associate vice president of US Climate and Energy and Southeast regional director at the Environmental Defense Fund, according to the EPA.
“In no way, shape or form, will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess that they created,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said, vowing to use the agency’s “full enforcement authority.”
President Joe Biden echoed the sentiment Tuesday, calling the EPA’s order “common sense.” This is their mess. They should clean it up,” the president said of Norfolk Southern in an Instagram post.
I know that the order can’t fix the nightmare families in this town have been living with. But it will begin to deliver much needed justice for the pain that Norfolk Southern has caused,” Regan said.
The governor of Pennsylvania said that state environmental officials made a criminal referral against Norfolk Southern. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said that the attorney general is reviewing actions the law allows him to take.
Public Health Concerns Following the February 3 Derailment: Norfolk Southern Will Keep It Away, But It’s Going Away Faster Than Expect
The backlash comes as residents of the small village grapple with fears about the safety of their air and water in the aftermath of the February 3 derailment, which ignited a fire that burned for days and prompted crews to intentionally release vinyl chloride from the train cars to help avert an explosion – a move that sent a thick plume of smoke over the small community.
Skepticism further spread in the community as some residents have reported health problems, like rashes and headaches, and after thousands of fish died in Ohio waterways after the train derailed.
Officials have repeatedly assured residents that tests show no dangers lurking in the air or water. Crews have checked hundreds of homes and have not detected any dangerous levels of contaminants, the EPA said.
Toasting with glasses of tap water from the home of an East Palestine, Ohio, resident, Regan and DeWine sought to quell bubbling concerns about the safety of the water.
Pennsylvania’s governor – who also ordered evacuations after the derailment – alleged Tuesday that the train operator gave officials “inaccurate information” and “refused to explore or articulate alternative courses of action,” in the days following the toxic wreck.
He plans to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the risks they injected into the crisis.
Norfolk Southern has committed millions of dollars’ worth of financial assistance to East Palestine, including $3.4 million in direct financial assistance to families and a $1 million community assistance fund, among other aid, the company has said.
Shaw told CNN that he had made the commitment to Norfolk Southern from the beginning. Constantly long-term air and water monitoring will be used to do it. We will help the people of this community recover, we will invest in the long-term health of the community and we will make Norfolk Southern a safer railroad.
Shaw said that his company continues to monitor air and water quality and has conducted hundreds of tests with thousands of data points that all have come back clean.
The Essex-Sandwich Railway Accident and the Roads to East Palestine: What do East Palestine residents need to know about future rail safety measures?
Norfolk Southern did not have to notify the state of a train with hazardous materials, according to DeWine.
President Biden called on Congress to help in implementing rail safety measures and accused the Trump administration of limiting government ability to strengthen rail safety measures.
Vice President joe Biden said in a post that it is more than a train wreck or a toxic waste spill and it is years of opposition to safety measures coming home to roost.
The contaminated soil became the focus of discussion last week after a document that was sent to the EPA did not list soil removal among the actions taken to clean it up. It is not yet known what significance or impact the soil that was not removed before the railroad reopened on February 8 will have had on the surrounding areas.
As crews continue cleanup efforts and officials promise accountability, East Palestine residents are still dealing with fears surrounding potential impacts from the toxic wreck.
Still, as worries remain, the state opened a new health clinic for East Palestine residents to address the reports of rashes, headaches, nausea and other symptoms.
The administrator of the EPA asked anyone concerned about the symptoms to seek medical help and not to discount what they are experiencing.
I believe people when they say they are facing adverse impacts. We can include that information as a part of our response because we are asking them to seek medical attention. “We’re not discounting what people are experiencing at all. We just ask that they seek medical help while we conduct all of our investigations.”
“We need our town cleaned up, we need our residents to feel safe in their homes,” Conaway said at Tuesday news conference. “That’s the number one thing. Your home is your sanctuary: if you don’t feel safe in your home, then you’re never going to feel safe anywhere.”