Senators from Ohio testify at hearing on East Palestine train derailment
Mar. 11—Brown, Vance urge passage of rail safety bill
Ohio's two U.S. senators testified on Thursday at a Senate hearing on the East Palestine derailment, where they urged lawmakers to pass their bipartisan rail safety legislation.
The hearing, aimed at the Feb. 3 derailment, which released toxic chemicals into the air around East Palestine, came following an additional derailment of a Norfolk Southern train this week, in Springfield. Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw also testified.
"The response to this crisis has been far too partisan," Democrat Sherrod Brown said. "Today is an opportunity to change that. Sen. Vance and I are both listening to the same Ohioans in this community — people who feel like they have no way to stand up to a company like Norfolk Southern, and are worried about what will happen when the cameras pack up and leave."
Brown, along with Republican JD Vance, introduced a bill last week, the Railway Safety Act of 2023, that has been hailed by advocates as the most comprehensive in decades.
"If Norfolk Southern had paid a little more attention to safety and a little less attention to its profits — had cared a little more about the Ohioans along its tracks, and a little less about its executives and shareholders — these accidents would not have been as bad, or might not have happened at all," Brown said.
Brown's office said he is working with members of both parties to secure resources for Ohioans and to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for cleaning damage to the community. Both senators have visited East Palestine and have been meeting with residents there.
"It shouldn't take a train derailment for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together for the people we serve — not corporations like
Norfolk Southern," Brown said, stating the industry has opposed attempts at safety standards. "Lobbyists for the rail companies spent years fighting every effort to strengthen rules to make our trains and rail lines safer. Now Ohioans are paying the price."
Vance urged his fellow Republicans to get behind the legislation.
"I worry that there has been a movement in my party and in my movement in response to the legislation that I've proposed that would not hold Norfolk Southern or the rail industry accountable ... And now [the railroad industry is] claiming before the Senate and the House that our reasonable regulation, our reasonable legislation is somehow a violation of the free market?" Vance said. "Well pot, meet the kettle, because that doesn't make an ounce of sense. You cannot claim special government privileges, you cannot ask the government to bail you out, and then resist basic public safety."
Vance said his party needs to be the "party of working people."
"But now we are faced with a choice, with this legislation and how we respond to this crisis, do we do the bidding of a massive industry that is in bed with big government, or do we do the bidding of the people who elected us to the Senate and to the Congress in the first place?" he said. "I believe that we are the party of working people, but it's time to be the party of working people. We have a choice. Are we for big business and big government or are we for the people of East Palestine? It's a time for choosing. Let's make the right one."