(The Center Square) – Lawmakers in Washington ended their silence and stepped up for East Palestine, Ohio, residents last week and into the weekend.
A Norfolk Southern train derailed on the outskirts of town on Feb. 3 and neither of U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown or J.D. Vance, or U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson – who represents all of Columbiana County – issued statements through their offices for 10 days. That changed over the last seven days.
Among the three, Vance had the first statement on Feb. 13. Johnson followed a day later, and Brown on Wednesday of last week. Each had posted from their Twitter accounts much earlier, Vance and Johnson on the day after the derailment and Brown on Feb. 6.
They were no different than much of the country and even some of Ohio in regard to the derailment not attracting much attention. Then last week, social media postings sent the story forward.
All three throttled down for residents of the small community of just under 5,000 and their surrounding neighbors. Their messages have commonalities – in no particular order; asking for answers about good water and air, safety concerns, holding the rail company accountable, and requesting money for residents and their community.
Vance’s initial statement, even at 10 days after the incident, fanned questions of concern. His statements Thursday and Monday, respectively, served to call on Norfolk Southern to be accountable and in conjunction with Brown made requests of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The congressional freshman Republican’s office put out seven statements in as many days.
From Feb. 4-14, Brown’s office put out 14 releases – none about the derailment. The nine-term Democrat had three more last Wednesday before a joint statement with Vance and Pennsylvania Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman calling on EPA Administrator Michael Regan to find out more about hazardous materials in the air and groundwater.
On Thursday, Brown was with Regan in East Palestine; and his office put out seven statements on the situation between Wednesday and Saturday. Sunday he was on CNN’s “State of the Union” talk show.
“I’m here today,” Brown said in his Thursday release, “to listen to the people this disaster is hurting the most – the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities. My office and I are exploring every option. Since the day of the derailment, I’ve been talking with EPA, NTSB, and CDC. And we’ve sent them letters calling for action and for recommendations to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We are going to get this community answers and we are going to make sure they have the help they need.”
NTSB is an acronym for the National Transportation Safety Board; CDC refers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Johnson, a Republican starting his seventh term, had three releases – none about the train – between the derailment and his Valentine’s Day letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw. He asked the rail company to reexamine “its criteria for reimbursement for disaster-related expenses associated with the train derailment.” He put out four statements between Tuesday and Friday of last week.
There were no injuries because of the crash, officials have said. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who was at the site within days after the crash, said Friday chemicals that spilled and reached the Ohio River are no longer a risk. There have been reports of people complaining of health issues related to the crash; there have not been descriptions of medical officials being overwhelmed.