When big rail corporations like Norfolk Southern wreak havoc on communities like East Palestine, local first responders are left to clean up their mess.
These cities and towns often have no warning that hazardous materials are traveling through their communities. If a derailment happens, particularly in smaller communities, first responders don’t always have the resources and training they need to respond.
Larger cities and counties may have the resources to apply for more grants for training or hire more people, but railroad tracks run through practically every town in Ohio — including places like East Palestine where the fire departments are all-volunteer.
I have spoken with local officials, first responders, and residents in East Palestine, and other towns where derailments have happened, about the challenges that these local heroes face.
That is why I introduced the Assistance for Local Heroes During Train Crises Act. It would allow the Federal Railroad Administration to declare a “hazardous train event” to quickly provide funding to help state and local emergency response groups, fire departments, and law enforcement agencies cover the costs of responding to a hazardous derailment. It would also give local emergency organizations the financial flexibility they need to protect their communities, so they don’t have to choose between preparing for a disaster and dealing with all the other day-to-day emergencies.
All of this would be paid for by corporations, not taxpayers, through fees on the companies transporting these materials. Ohio communities should not have to foot the bill for corporate negligence.
Earlier this week, I testified at another hearing with the Norfolk Southern CEO along with Senator Vance, Governor DeWine, and a mother from East Palestine where we heard the same corporate PR talking points from the CEO and from the rail company lobbyist talking about how seriously they supposedly take safety.
But we know that hazardous materials were on the train that derailed in Springfield earlier this month and the only thing that saved that community from becoming another East Palestine was luck.
From this bill supporting first responders, to my bipartisan legislation to improve rail safety with Senator Vance, I will always stand up to corporate lobbyists on behalf of Ohio communities.
Sherrod Brown is the senior U.S. senator from Ohio.