Time to Set Up the Trust Fund

Our previous post decried the lack of any comments from the parishioners of the Church of Climate Change to the latest environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. Compounding the issue, the Biden Administration apparently cares more about sending money to Ukraine rather than the poor community in the northwest corner of Ohio. It wasn’t until Donald Trump shamed the administration by his presence in Palestine yesterday, did the Federal government start showing any meaningful response. The derailment of the train transporting toxic chemicals occurred on February 3, 2023 , and it took 19 days  before the Biden Administration took it seriously.

The environmental tragedy has expanded to three states so far, and might have the potential of becoming even a bigger problem. The catastrophic health event caused by the chemical burn off might have ramifications for the next ten years, or even more. No one can predict how long, or how many health ailments people will suffer because of the irresponsibility of Norfolk Southern and the federal government.  If history is any predictor of the future, the people exposed will have health issues for years to come. The Marine Camp Legeune’s drinking water contamination is a good guide. In 2022, the US Congress passed a bill into law reserving $67 million for all military and civilian persons still suffering from the toxicity of drinking water. To this day, people are still suffering debilitating and lethal symptoms even though the environmental problem was apparently remediated by 1987.   

Fading, but still in memory, is the crash of the Exxon Valdez in 1987 off the southern coast of Alaska, in a place called Prince William Sound, near Anchorage. The Valdez hit the well-known navigational hazard named the Bligh Reef and spilled her load of crude oil into the water. After the spill, the whole world was incensed, and even the popular dish detergent Dawn produced by Proctor and Gamble donated its soap along with additional funds to help clean the birds. Many will remember how Proctor and Gamble benefitted from the spill and used the Valdez spill to promote their product on television . More important than Dawn’s contribution, is the amount of money Exxon was made to pay for their negligence and liability. Exxon eventually had to pay $2 billion in cleanup; $1.8 billion in habitat restoration and another $500 million in punitive damages.

In the early stages of the disaster in East Palestine, little is known about how much harm it will ultimately cause. What is known, is the chemical pollutants released into the air are extremely harmful.  The noxious cloud unleashed into the atmosphere on February 6, 2023 ,which is referred to as a controlled explosion, will have lasting effects on many in its path. The fire resulting from the explosion was not extinguished until two days later. Two days of harmful chemicals mingling in the air, ground and water systems. 

Currently, three states are directly exposed, (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) and there might be more as time goes on. What is missing in the conversation is the responsibility of the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  Although the facts of the derailment are fuzzy, what is without question is Norfolk’s representatives ignited and released 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride into the environment.

Who gave them the authority to send a huge black plume of deadly gas in the airspace and pollute the water and ground of East Palestine? Was it Norfolk, or were they directed by either the state of Ohio EPA or the Federal EPA?  Either the EPA or Norfolk has a lot to answer for, and far more to pay for. Due to the lack of transparency from our government and the rail carrier, it’s hard to know who is more liable. One thing is for sure, it’s not the residents of East Palestine and surrounding areas.  The Congress should not be silent and should start hearings on this matter immediately. Norfolk Southern has blame, the extent not yet known completely. But Norfolk is a wealthy company who should be compelled to set aside funds to pay for the damages which will inevitably exceed their insurance coverage.  

But that is not the position Norfolk Sothern’s holds. Norfolk Southern has a market cap of $50 billion, and CEO, Alan Shaw downplays his company’s liability by offering a meager $1000 to residents as an inconvenience payment. An inconvenience payment! Shaw who makes $4 million a year in cash along with stock options and has the gall to offer $1000!  Shaw isn’t living in a worthless polluted house, and will never worry about paying for his future medical treatment as will the residents who were exposed to the plume.  

The process of justice needs to be started immediately for those poor residents of East Palestine and other communities who certainly do not make $4million in take home pay per year. Hopefully, the total disregard of lower income and noninfluential citizens will be punished with a huge punitive settlement along with just financial restitution.   

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