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Biden issues executive order to help East Palestine

EAST PALESTINE — President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued an executive order to protect people in East Palestine and nearby communities, while continuing to hold Norfolk Southern Railway accountable after its massive, fiery Feb. 3 derailment.

A Norfolk Southern train had 53 cars derail about 9:30 p.m. that date in East Palestine, less than 1 mile from the Pennsylvania border.

Water and soil monitoring has been ongoing in nearby Ohio communities, as well as in Beaver and Lawrence counties.

Now, Biden has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to appoint a federal disaster recovery coordinator to oversee long-term recovery efforts.

The state of Ohio’s request for a major disaster declaration pursuant to the Stafford Act will be held open, however. If the FEMA administrator receives new information from the state, including needs that are not being addressed by Norfolk Southern, she will immediately submit a recommendation on whether a major disaster declaration is warranted, according to the White House.

However, the Department of Health and Human Services will provide technical assistance to Ohio and Pennsylvania if either state considers submitting a proposal for services through the Medicaid program for individuals affected by the derailment.

“The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to ensure Norfolk Southern complies with the Federal Unilateral Administrative Order it was issued to cover all cleanup costs, and federal officials remain on the ground and will continue to closely monitor conditions in the affected communities for as long as it may take to ensure the contamination is fully addressed,” a fact sheet from the White House states.

MEETING OBLIGATIONS

Biden also announced new steps to ensure Norfolk Southern continues meeting its obligations to the community.

The railroad has made repeated visits, donations and assurances to local residents that it intends to make things right in the affected areas, and continues to work on site addressing the aftermath and massive cleanup.

DIRECTIVES

The executive order directs the following federal agency actions:

* FEMA: Within five days of the order, FEMA will designate a federal disaster recovery coordinator to oversee long-term recovery efforts in the affected communities. The coordinator will conduct a comprehensive assessment of any unmet needs that are not addressed by Norfolk Southern and would qualify for federal assistance. The coordinator also will collaborate with the federal, state and local governments, the private sector and voluntary, faith-based and community organizations supporting the recovery.

* Environmental Protection Agency: EPA will continue to direct removal of contaminated soils and wastewater from the derailment site, in compliance with state and federal law. In addition, EPA will ensure that any remaining contamination in surface stream sediments is addressed, and that air and water monitoring continues.

Within 30 days, EPA will provide a report to the president on the status of air, soil, and water monitoring and whether Norfolk Southern continues to comply with the federal order to address the damage caused by the derailment. Moving forward, EPA will provide the president with an updated report every 60 days until all cleanup, assessment and monitoring work required by EPA’s order has been completed.

* Health and Human Services: Within 60 days, HHS will provide the president with a report summarizing key conclusions from the public health testing and assessment conducted. In coordination with the affected states, HHS will continue to monitor the public health consequences of the derailment, including to determine whether any acute medical conditions develop. If such medical conditions develop, HHS and EPA will evaluate whether a public health emergency should be declared.

HHS will provide technical assistance to Ohio and Pennsylvania if either state considers submitting a proposal for services through the Medicaid program for individuals affected by the derailment.

* Department of Transportation: Within 60 days, DOT will provide the president with a report detailing the actions the department is taking in response to the derailment. This report will be updated within 120 days of the final National Transportation Safety Board investigation, and DOT will provide the president a preliminary set of follow-up actions.

news@tribtoday.com

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