VA Environmentalists Disagree with DEQ’s Norfolk Southern Fine
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Virginia environmentalists are frustrated by the state Department of Environmental Quality's $27,000 fine of Norfolk Southern for a 2020 train derailment.
The derailment caused 16 boxcars to spill almost 1,400 tons of coal into the Roanoke River. The town of Salem's water plant had to halt intake for about a month over concerns of possible water contamination.
Tim Cywinski, communications manager for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said the fine is disheartening because it does not deter derailments from happening again. He feels the state failed to take certain things into consideration while determining this fine.
"I think they should have taken into account that Norfolk Southern is one of the biggest and most profitable train and freight services industries in the United States," Cywinski pointed out. "And to give them a fine that is less than the price of a new car is honestly laughable and just offensive to the fact that it impacted the people and environment of Salem, Virginia."
Cywinski added state and federal protections need to be put in place to better hold companies accountable, and to prevent such derailments from happening again.
Derailments are not uncommon. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were more than 1,100 derailments in 2020, a number which has fluctuated in the few years since.
Since Norfolk Southern first came under fire for a crash involving hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, numerous railroad safety groups have been working to improve the industry's safety regulations.
Ann Creasy, acting deputy director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said new regulations need to go hand in hand with levying appropriate fines against companies to deter future incidents.
"It's really about corporate accountability of ensuring that safety and workers and proactive measures are invested in on the front end," Creasy contended.
A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate called the Railway Safety Act of 2023. The bill aims to boost safety requirements for trains transporting hazardous materials. Hearings have been held, and it is currently under review by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
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