CJA Calls for Stronger Safeguards & Meaningful Community Engagement to Prevent Further Toxic Disasters & Harm in the Wake of Ohio chemical spill - Climate Justice Alliance

Washington, D.C. –  Since the derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railway train in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3rd, it is becoming more evident that the health consequences for Ohio communities and those in neighboring states like Pennsylvania could be much more significant than first acknowledged by public officials and federal agencies. Experts now say the impact of toxins, including carcinogens that were released as a result of the crash and the “controlled burn” subsequently conducted to prevent an explosion, could span longer distances through air and waterways than originally disclosed.

As the Biden Administration expands investments and funding for “clean” energy in the states, it is imperative that business as usual practices, which often lead to short cuts and put frontline communities at risk, are not allowed to continue. Given the fossil fuel industry’s continued involvement and leadership in our clean energy transition through new and unproven technologies and their search for ever increasing profits, the Biden Administration must enact stronger protections from pollution and toxins for both communities and the planet. 

This year, the Inflation Reduction Act will pump never before seen amounts of money into climate related projects, and it will also unleash the building of unproven and harmful technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen hubs. These unproven technologies, which we term false solutions,  will necessitate the buildout of a vast new pipeline network, and will incentivize more fracking and petrochemicals production, and more shipments of toxic and hazardous chemicals by truck or rail. 

Collectively, these false solutions will greatly increase both the pollution burden on communities, and the risk of catastrophic fires, explosions, and toxic releases. Historically, this kind of dangerous infrastructure has been housed in Black, Brown, Indigenous and other frontline communities, who just as in Ohio, have had to bear the brunt of the burden of the dirty energy industry’s racist and discriminatory practices. Over the years, these shortcuts and profit driven practices have resulted in thousands of chemical spills, harmful toxins and pollution being unleashed in the most vulnerable neighborhoods with devastating consequences. Whether Cancer Alley in Louisiana or a chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio business as usual must come to an end. 

It doesn’t matter if it is Norfolk Southern Railway supporting police forces who want to build a Cop City into South River Forest to make room for expanded police infrastructure, or a fossil fuel company; it’s clear that recently eroded rules and regulations must be overhauled and brought up to speed to the meet the need of all communities.

This catastrophe highlights how the police operate as tools of major corporations and aim to prevent the public from learning more. The arrest of Evan Lambert, a reporter covering the East Palestine train spill, deeply mirrors the militarized police response to hurricane survivors in New Orleans in 2005, or the attacks on community members in Standing Rock in 2016. If militarized police training facilities like Cop City multiply, communities facing crises will be criminalized more readily for their attempts at getting justice, basic resources for their survival, or even accurate information.

Increased meaningful community engagement and inclusion in the development of 1) rules for the transportation of toxic and hazardous chemicals, 2) regulations that guide the energy industry and 3) monitoring systems that regulate the transportation, housing and operating of energy systems and infrastructure must center equity and community over corporate earnings. Safeguards for communities and real consequences for companies that continue to cut corners must be developed and enforced.

With two other derailments earlier this week in South Carolina and Texas, now is the time for the White House to act. They can start by ensuring the EPA and all federal agencies strengthen community input and engagement by putting environmental justice at the center, not corporate profits.  


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