The Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Norfolk Southern to ensure that the railroad pays for the cleanup costs and fines associated with the Feb. 3 derailment of an NS train in East Palestine, Ohio.
The suit, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleges that the discharge of pollutants and oil/hazardous substances as a result of the Feb. 3 derailment caused NS (NYSE: NSC) to violate sections 309 and 311 of the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit is also asking to recover response costs from NS per section 107 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).
CERCLA is commonly known as the regulation that oversees superfunds. Superfunds serve as a trust fund to clean up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.
The suit was filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is asking for civil penalties of $64,618 per day for violating section 301 of the Clean Water Act and $55,808 per day for violating section 311 of the Clean Water Act. It is also asking to hold NS liable for CERCLA response costs.
In response to the lawsuit, NS said in a statement: “Our job right now is to make progress every day cleaning up the site, assisting residents whose lives were impacted by the derailment, and investing in the future of East Palestine and the surrounding areas. We are working with urgency, at the direction of the U.S. EPA, and making daily progress. That remains our focus and we’ll keep working until we make it right.”
NS has transported 9.6 million gallons of impacted water offsite, removed 13,263 tons of waste soil and flushed 5,200 feet of impacted waterways, according to an NS website that provides cleanup updates.
DOJ’s legal action is among the latest in a string of lawsuits that parties have filed against NS over the Feb. 3 train derailment, including one filed by Ohio’s attorney general.
Attorneys told FreightWaves that DOJ’s lawsuit can be considered a standard procedure that happens when a railroad allegedly violates the Clean Water Act because of a derailment. The suit provides assurances to the federal government that a company won’t walk away from a site recovery too early in the process. The suit could also help ease the concerns of local residents as they resettle into the area.
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