News & Reviews News Wire Department of Justice sues Norfolk Southern over East Palestine derailment

Department of Justice sues Norfolk Southern over East Palestine derailment

By | March 31, 2023

Suit, on behalf of EPA, addresses water pollution

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

Burned out tank cars and standing water around derailment site
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Norfolk Southern over pollution resulting from the East Palestine derailment. Sol Tucker

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Norfolk Southern over the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment, seeking recovery of costs and civil penalties for pollution from the release of toxic chemicals as a result of the Feb. 3 incident.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, is on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency. The 28-page document asks that the railroad be held accountable “for unlawfully polluting the nation’s waterways and to ensure it pays the full cost of the environmental cleanup.”

It says NS is subject to penalties of $64,618 per day per violation of section 301 of the Clean Water Act, for discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States; and of $55,808 per day or $2,232 per barrel of oil or unit of hazardous substance per violation of Section 311 of the Clean Water Act, for discharge of oil or hazardous substances into waters of the United States. It also seeks to hold the railroad responsible for response costs, wants NS ordered to take appropriate actions “to remedy, mitigate, and offset the harm to public health and the environment” caused by those violations, and asks for “such other relief as the Court deems just and proper.”

NS CEO Alan Shaw has apologized for the derailment in two appearances before Congress, and the railroad has repeatedly promised to “make right” for the resulting damage. The website it established to address its efforts in the community says the company has spent $27.9 million in the community to date, and it has pledged to take such actions as establishing a long-term medical compensation fund, protection for home sellers if their property loses value, and long-term protection of drinking water.

The railroad continues to be buffeted by lawsuits, including a number from local residents and business owners, one from the state of Ohio [see “Ohio sues Norfolk Southern …,” Trains News Wire,” March 14, 2023], and a series by or on behalf of stockholders [see “Norfolk Southern sued over stockholder losses …,” News Wire, March 17, 2023].

18 thoughts on “Department of Justice sues Norfolk Southern over East Palestine derailment

  1. How about NS simply takes the hint and abandon al its lines? Clearcut everything. Leave no trance, as the environmentalists say. Let the government haul freight.

  2. I wonder if they will sue Berkshire Hathaway for there latest derailment that spilled hazardous materials

  3. Bring out the wet noodle for penalties associated with Norfolk Southern’s East Palestine foreseeable wreck. The federal penalties are a rounding error for executive compensation and perks.

    As Vincent Saunders states: : “in 60 days, just in fines, NS would be socked with $3,877,080 for violation of section 301 of the Clean Air and Water Act and $3,348,480 for violating section 311 just in fines. (7,225,560 in total for 60 days.)”

    Wow! Can you imagine the fear of the potential penalties impart on class 1 executives? How can guys like Shaw sleep at night?

    More power to the class action lawyers and a $1B judgement against Norfolk Southern.

  4. Just wondering , what if NS said ” The Common Carrier rules we must transport the materials , then a derailment and we get sued for spilling the material . Let us shut down till we get this mess cleaned up.” Almost as silly as the politicians actions.

  5. My personal opinion on this,
    The Federal Government, you and I, in this case, and the citizens of our country, should assume some of the risks for these shipments. It is for the common good we need to move these chemicals. Things like water purification chemicals and plastics for manufacturing. It can be,at least, partially funded with a tax on shipments.
    Yes I’m a tax and spend liberal. But at least I’m offering how to pay for the spending.

    1. The costs are already passed down to the consumer. Shipping rates have operating costs like insurance, maintenance of way, administration and labor all included.
      So in an open market, consumers should expect the insurance companies to raise their rates on railroads and their carriage costs, which will be eventually passed down through to the end products.
      Insurance companies can incentivize railroad operators to reduce or keep their policy rates down by having the insured railroad spend more money on safety and training programs.
      With the massive payouts expected from East Palestine and other derailments from the policy carriers, you can be sure there will be a forceful reaction to current events when the Class 1’s policy contracts come up for review.

  6. We do not yet have the NTSB final report, so any legislation now is unlikely to address the results. Remember, politicians think their highest priority is to generate new laws. I see this as posturing and aggrandizement. These politicians will not be around to be held accountable for these laws. And if we want a modern world, their will always be risks. No reputable business intends to lose money and cause gross harm.
    If I were a carrier, I would start to price the service to cover the risk.

    1. And the next thing is the railroads get hauled before the Surface Transportation Board(Surf Bd), over just how much risk costs. The chemical companies have done that before. Specifically over chemical shipments of inhalation risk chemicals.

  7. Maybe it’s time that the railroads sue the government for making them haul hazardous materials because they don’t want it on the highways. Government tells them they can not refuse a shipment because you are a common carrier or we’ll sue you. But if you have a wreck or a spill we will sue the crap out of you. Like dam if you do an dam if you don’t

  8. NTSB findings cannot be used for any legal proceedings. However the lawyers can certainly read them. NS’ lawyers may be overloaded?

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but since NTSB has not rendered a decision on what the undisputed cause of this derailment was, is this action by DOJ/EPA even legal?

  10. All for show. NS has or is already doing all or almost all of those things voluntarily. “Gentlemen, we must justify our phoney-baloney jobs.” (paraphrased from “Blazing Saddles”)

    1. Maybe the DOJ (and this administration, by no means the friend of the people except where it suits them politically) are doing two things here: (A) trying to get NS To do things sooner rather than later and (B) ensure that the things they are responsible for are guaranteed by court ordered law.

      Its all of railroading fault. If you drag your feet on everything that happens, eventually someone will be made the example for the rest. Sometimes nothing speaks louder than a government lawsuit mandating action. Its unfortunate but true. And for NS, they might as well get on with the end game now and start putting a better face on what appears to be a lot of talk with not much action, at least so far. Yes, 27.9 million is a lot for us peons but not much for a multi-billion dollar company that appears to the public to be dragging its feet.

      UP, BNSF, CSX, CN and CPKC: don’t put your heads in the sand and think that by laying low you’ll slide by… The big spear has been chucked by the government and the target is collectively you…

    2. And by the way, in 60 days, just in fines, NS would be socked with $3,877,080 for violation of section 301 of the Clean Air and Water Act and $3,348,480 for violating section 311 just in fines. (7,225,560 in total for 60 days.) And if it goes longer, BAM! NS might be better to make a plea deal and get the earthmovers, dozers and what ever is going to be required on it now, in lieu of or lesser amounts on those fines. As we used to say in the logistics business, “Time is of the essence!”

    3. “Harrumph!! Harrumph!” And then back to the really important things – “The affairs of state must take precedence over the affairs of state”, says the governor who then turns to lay his hand on his very well-endowed secretary. Typical politician behavior.

You must login to submit a comment