Facing mounting scrutiny, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw will face lawmakers Thursday in his first appearance on Capitol Hill Thursday since the Feb. 3 train derailment that led to a toxic chemical spill and evacuation in East Palestine, Ohio.
The Norfolk Southern Railway CEO will be in the hot seat in a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, as senators grill him about clean-up efforts and a spate of recent accidents involving the rail company.
Shaw plans to tell lawmakers that he is “deeply sorry” for the impact the Ohio train derailment has had on the people of East Palestine and neighboring communities and that he is “determined to make it right,” according to his written testimony obtained by NBC News.
“We will clean the site safely, thoroughly, and with urgency. We are making progress every day,” Shaw will tell members.
This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was launching a special investigation of Norfolk Southern Railway’s organization and safety culture. Since December 2021, NTSB said it had launched investigation teams to five significant accidents involving Norfolk Southern, including on Saturday when a freight train derailed near Springfield, Ohio, and on Tuesday when a Norfolk Southern employee was killed during a collision.
The company announced a six-point plan on Monday to begin addressing safety concerns.
“While accidents happen, the residents of Ohio and Pennsylvania and the American people deserve answers, straight answers and they deserve accountability,” EPW Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is about getting answers and this is about restoring trust.”
Shaw, who has been president and CEO of Norfolk Southern since May 2022, will appear alongside Debra Shore, a regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency; Anne Vogel, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; and local officials who can speak to the environmental impact of the derailment on the community.
Ohio’s two senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican J.D. Vance, as well as Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., will testify during an earlier panel. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET.
Residents in East Palestine have said they are fearful and anxious about potential exposure to hazardous chemicals following the derailment there, with some avoiding the drinking water, despite assurances by federal officials that the air and water and safe.
The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up any soil and water contamination and to pay for it.
Shaw on Thursday will detail how the company is working with the EPA on a long-term removal plan that will guide testing on the quality of the water, air and soil. And he will stress the importance of providing financial assistance to affected residents, noting that the company has “committed to reimbursements and investments of more than $20 million in total,” aiding 4,200 families and first responders in East Palestine.
“Financial assistance cannot change what happened, but it is an important part of doing the right thing,” Shaw will say in his statement. “I want to be clear: this financial assistance is just a down payment. … We will continue to invest in East Palestine for as long as it takes to help the community recover and thrive.”
As of Monday, at least 18 lawsuits had been filed against the company.
The Biden administration will also face criticism at the Thursday hearing. West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the panel, took aim at the EPA during Wednesday’s call with Carper and reporters.
“Personally, I think the EPA failed. … There was confusion, there was delayed data, and a sense that nobody really cared. So, if you’re thinking about somebody in your home, you evacuate, you come back, is your water safe, is the air clean?” Capito said.
“So we’re going to ask, you know, why did it take the EPA administrator three weeks before he actually drank the water? He was telling everybody it was safe. Why did it take a month to establish a response center?”