Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor calling on Norfolk Southern’s CEO to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the horrific train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
First responders at the state, local, and federal levels continue working around the clock helping the people of East Palestine recover from one of the worst train derailments in decades.
The scene in East Palestine over the last month has been the stuff of nightmares:
A 38-car derailment.
An entire town forced to evacuate.
The stench of industrial chemicals and soot hovering in the air.
Parents scared of their kid’s drinking water, and kids anxious about life returning to normal.
No community deserves this. While a full investigation of the derailment has yet to be completed, the Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board said this accident was “one hundred percent preventable.” Again: the NTSB Chair said the accident was “one hundred percent preventable.”
The fault for this disaster lies first and foremost with Norfolk Southern. Norfolk Southern’s CEO Alan Shaw needs to come before the Senate, answer questions under oath, and explain to the American people exactly what went wrong and how they will prevent accidents like this from happening. He should not duck, he should be there. He should come before the Senate. We are asking Mr. Shaw to do just that.
The American people should hear from Norfolk Southern’s CEO precisely why they thought it was a good idea to spend years—years—lobbying to loosen regulations designed to prevent accidents like this.
And I especially want to hear why Norfolk Southern, after seeing a record $3.3B in profits last year, prioritized billions—billions—in stock buybacks instead of putting that money toward safety and towards their workers.
Over the past few weeks, there’s been no shortage of opportunists racing to blame the Administration for the train derailment. Former President Trump himself showed up in East Palestine and blamed everyone but himself for the tragic accident.
But President Trump, as usual, omits a crucial truth. The Trump Administration spent years working to loosen safety regulations intended to make these types of accidents less likely. They’re in the behest of the Big Rail companies.
When President Trump entered office, rail companies spent millions pushing for repeals on all sorts of safety regulations, from inspection requirements, mandates for newer brakes, and rules governing the number of employees required to operate a train.
In one instance, the Trump Administration repealed requirements for an electronic breaking system because according to them, the safety benefits were simply not worth the costs.
Let me say that again: in 2017, the Trump Administration decided to repeal requirements for break upgrades because they didn’t think the safety benefits were worth the cost.
I think the people of East Palestine now know that that analysis was wrong and that they’re suffering the consequences of rail companies putting profits over people.
Now, I want to be clear: a full investigation is still needed to determine which, if any, safety regulations might have prevented the accident in East Palestine.
But you don’t need to be an expert to see that when companies prioritize profits over safety—when they loosen safety rules, lay off thousands of workers, and spend more money on stock buybacks than in preventing accidents—you’re flirting with disaster.
It is so typical of Donald Trump: he does the bidding of corporate special interests and it leads to serious harm to the American people. And when he gets caught, he turns around and blames someone else. It just doesn’t wash. And the American people see through it.
Disasters like the one in East Palestine are precisely what can happen when safety takes a backseat to maximizing profits and when self-aggrandizing politicians, like Donald Trump, allow and encourage it to happen.
Now, I particularly want to thank my colleagues from Ohio and Pennsylvania for being vigilant in responding to this disaster and working in a bipartisan way to solve it. I also, of course, want to thank all the first responders, at every level of government, for working without rest to keep people safe.
The Senate is going to look into precisely what went wrong in East Palestine. A good first step will be hearing directly from Norfolk Southern’s CEO. I hope he will work with us in good faith to come before the Senate as soon as possible.