J.D. Vance: Railroads Must ‘Pay Every Single Cent’ When They Set Off ‘Chemical Bombs’ in American Towns

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) delivers remarks during a hearing held by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on March 22, 2023 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on "Improving Rail Safety in response to the East Palestine Derailment". (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
NTSB/Handout via Xinhua/Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) says the railroad industry must “pay every single cent” when their trains derail and set off a “chemical bomb” in American communities, urging Republicans to get behind his legislation to increase public safety requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials.

In March, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio — with a population of less than 5,000 — leaving chemicals spewing into the community’s environment. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that more than 43,000 fish and other aquatic animals were killed as a result.

Recent studies have found such high dioxin levels in soil in East Palestine that they may pose a risk of cancer. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) has since filed suit against Norfolk Southern.

During a panel discussion with the nationalist-populist American Moment organization, Vance again highlighted his legislation with Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Fetterman (D-PA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that would, among other things, increase fines on rail companies when their trains derail and require them to notify local first responders when their trains are carrying hazardous materials.

Vance said he believes the legislation will pass the Senate and “may even get a majority of Republicans behind it.” From there, the legislation would go before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials which is chaired by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX), to whom Norfolk Southern’s political action committee (PAC) donated last year.

“The railroads, we’ve allowed them to socialize the cost of doing business on the people of East Palestine and similar communities,” Vance said:

If you, the railroad, have to pay every single cent when your train crashes and you basically set off chemical bombs in the middle of one my constituents’ hometowns, if you had to pay for that, you would respond to the public safety concerns much differently than the railroads currently do. But because a lot of that falls on the American taxpayer, and the Ohio taxpayer in this case, these railroads don’t conduct business the way that they should. Really, this is about basic fairness. If you’re going to cause the problem, you ought to pay for it. [Emphasis added]

Major multinational corporations are not always aligned with the national interest. That is a fact of life and if you’re not willing to deal with it, I don’t think you’re interested in serious policymaking. [Emphasis added]

Conservative beltway groups, some funded by Norfolk Southern and the railroad industry and others linked to the Koch network, are lobbying to tank Vance’s legislation.

East Palestine, Vance said, has been hit just as hard economically as a result of the train derailment. Eventually, he said his office would roll out an economic aid package for the people of East Palestine.

“Think about the home values, people who have lived in their house for 40 years, their home was paid off, now it’s worth half of what it was worth two months ago,” Vance said. “The economic devastation, the effect on the tax base, the effect on the local schools is going to be with us for a long time.”

Short-term and long-term health, though, is still the most prominent issue for East Palestine, according to Vance. Today, there remains some 30,000 tons of dirt in the area that is considered toxic. The dirt has been dug out of the ground but still remains sitting in East Palestine.

“If you actually go to East Palestine and talk to people, they’re not worried that they’re going to take a sip of water and drop dead,” Vance said. “What they’re worried about is, what happens if their grandkids drink the water for the next 10 years, are they going to have weird cancers?”


Vance said that although there has been pushback on his legislation from Republicans with economic libertarian views, the base of GOP voters is “not cool with a no-give-and-take alliance with corporate America.”

“They’re sick of being used as pawns in a Chamber of Commerce agenda — that’s true on defense policy, that’s true on immigration policy, that’s true on a lot of things,” Vance said.

Americans overwhelmingly back reform efforts like those offered by Vance. A poll conducted last month found that 76 percent of Americans want to see more local, state, and federal oversight of rail safety measures to prevent derailments like the one in East Palestine.

As Breitbart News has detailed, Norfolk Southern’s influence in Washington, DC, is vast among both Republicans and Democrats.

Last year, PACs associated with Norfolk Southern donated nearly a million dollars to Republicans and Democrats as well as both parties’ leadership organizations, such as the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Email him at jbinder@breitbart.com. Follow him on Twitter here


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