COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced a civil lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, calling the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine “entirely avoidable.”
The 58-count lawsuit was filed in federal court on Tuesday.
Yost opened a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon with some statistics regarding the derailment as well as the company Norfolk Southern as a whole. The East Palestine train derailment released over 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals. The Norfolk Southern accident rate is up 80% over the last 10 years, and at least 20 Norfolk Southern derailments since 2015 have involved chemical discharges, he said.
Yost stated he is concerned by the rising accident rate of Norfolk Southern but maintains that railroads are still the safest way to transport large amounts of freight.
“This derailment was completely avoidable,” Yost said, commenting that Norfolk Southern is prioritizing profit over safety. “The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate through Ohio and Ohioans for many years to come.”
The state’s lawsuit against Norfolk Southern seeks to cover damages, including environmental impacts and the impacts on Ohioans as a whole. Yost said this lawsuit does not cover individual claims: it focuses on public interest. He says the two may overlap — especially when it comes to issues such as water and health monitoring — but as a whole, individual cases will be handled by the private sector.
Norfolk Southern is cited for numerous violations of various federal and state environmental laws and Ohio Common Law. Generally speaking, the allegations of Norfolk Southern’s wrongdoing fall under:
- The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
- Ohio’s Hazardous Waste Law
- Ohio’s Water Pollution Control Law
- Ohio’s Solid Waste Law
- Ohio’s Air Pollution Control Law
- Common Law Negligence
- Common Law Public Nuisance
- Common Law Trespass
The Common Law violations include negligence counts relating to defects in the train and the train’s operation. The nuisance counts encompass the chemical releases into the air, public waterways and public land, and the trespass counts address the contamination of natural resources.
Overall, the lawsuit says, the violations resulted in an untold volume of hazardous pollutants being released into the air, water and ground, posing substantial, long-term threats to human health and the environment.
Ohio is entitled to recover the lost taxes and other economic losses it has suffered, the lawsuit maintains. Yost seeks injunctive relief, civil penalties, costs, damages and court costs, including:
- A declaratory judgment holding Norfolk Southern responsible.
- Recovery of costs and damages under the CERCLA and Ohio law for emergency response.
- Repayment of damages under common law – notably, natural resource damages, property damages, and economic harm to the state and its residents.
- Repayment of costs under common law, including present and future costs incurred by the state in responding to the emergency, providing public services, preventing future harm to the environment and public health, restoring natural resources, and abating the nuisance.
- Civil penalties under state environmental laws.
- Repayment of court costs.
Yost states Norfolk Southern has expressed both publically and privately a desire to make amends and, “This lawsuit is designed to make sure that Norfolk Southern keeps their word to the people of East Palestine and the people of Ohio.”
“Our pledge to the people of East Palestine and Ohio is that we will not draw back, we will not give up, we will not surrender, but we will end in a place where there is justice for the people, for the economy and for the environment.”
Norfolk Southern responded to the lawsuit, saying they are developing three additional programs for East Palestine.
First, Norfolk promises to create a long-term medical compensation fund. Next, Norfolk says it will provide protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the derailment. And last, it is looking toward a program that protects drinking water over the long term.