By Jeff Louderback
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who authorized an end to the evacuation order of East Palestine two days after a controlled burn sent toxic vinyl chloride into the air and onto the ground after a Norfolk Southern Railway train crash, has received financial support from the railroad for several years, according to a Columbus, Ohio TV station’s investigation.
WSYX reported that Norfolk Southern and its political action committee have contributed more than $20,000 to DeWine’s gubernatorial campaigns and his 2019 inauguration.
DeWine, a Republican, was reelected to a second term last November.
He received a $10,000 donation, the maximum permitted by law, weeks before the Feb. 3 derailment, according to WSYX.
Since he first ran for governor in 2018, DeWine has received $29,000 from Norfolk Southern.
DeWine’s former legislative director has ties to Norfolk Southern.
Dan McCarthy, who held that role from January 2019 to September 2021, served as president of the railroad’s Ohio lobbying organization, The Success Group, from 1994 until 2020.
On Feb. 3, a 151-car Norfolk Southern Railway freight train crashed in East Palestine.
The National Transportation Safety Board reported that 38 rail cars derailed, and a fire ensued which damaged an additional 12 cars.
Of the cars that derailed, 11 carried hazardous materials, according to the NTSB.
Seeking to avoid an explosion that officials claimed would send shrapnel into the air, vinyl chloride was intentionally released and burned on Feb. 6, sending a massive cloud of black smoke into the sky that could be seen for miles around and was likened to a mushroom cloud caused by a nuclear weapon.
Vinyl chloride is a chemical used to make PVC pipes and other products. The National Cancer Institute notes that vinyl chloride has been linked to cancers of the brain, lungs, blood, lymphatic system, and liver.
Before Norfolk Southern conducted the controlled burn, DeWine urged residents in and near East Palestine to immediately evacuate on Feb. 5, calling it a matter of “life and death.”
Three days later, he held a press conference in East Palestine announcing that the evacuation order was lifted.
“With the full support of Governor DeWine, I am happy to announce the evacuation zone has been lifted,” East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick said.
DeWine said that he talked to Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, before agreeing to authorize the controlled explosion.
In a Twitter post earlier on Feb. 24, environmental activist Erin Brockovich appeared to target DeWine and other state and federal officials who have said East Palestine’s water is safe.
On Feb. 21, DeWine was shown on camera drinking tap water in an East Palestine woman’s home. He was accompanied by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, who also took a sip.
“One of the things we did today during two home visits was to drink some of the water—the village water,” DeWine said. “This village water is safe.”
Brockovich posted on Twitter a photo of what appeared to be oil floating on an East Palestine creek. “Taken today!! All Clear! My Ass!” she added.
She reposted the image with a new comment that read, “It’s beyond outrageous.”
Not Declared a Disaster
On Feb. 16, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent a letter to DeWine asking him to officially declare a disaster in East Palestine and get the Federal Emergency Management Association’s (FEMA’s) support.
That same day, DeWine’s office announced that the governor was told by the agency that the village does not qualify for an emergency declaration.
On Feb. 17, FEMA announced it would send a team to the eastern Ohio village.
In a joint statement on Feb. 17, DeWine and FEMA Regional Administrator Thomas Sivak reported that the federal agency has been in “constant contact” with the state and “working together since day one.”
FEMA dispatched a senior response official and a regional incident management assistance team on Feb. 18 to assess potential long-term recovery needs and other ongoing operations.
In response to the reports of DeWine’s connections to Norfolk Southern, the Sierra Club released a statement.
“This greedy relationship between Norfolk Southern and Governor DeWine and the governor’s refusal to declare the derailment a disaster is costing the health of thousands of residents in East Palestine by slowing the clean-up,” Sierra Club Campaign Representative Shelly Corbin said.
“Because of the woefully inadequate state response, Ohio and East Palestine are deprived of much-needed federal resources and attention that would hold the railway company rightfully accountable and provide this community the proper testing and monitoring they need to feel safe in their community again,” Corbin continued.
“Instead of waiting for the next paycheck from corrupt railway companies, Governor DeWine must declare a federal state of emergency immediately so the community can receive federal financial and technical support,” Corbin added.
During a town hall event at East Palestine High School on Feb. 24, Brockovich did not discuss DeWine.
She did talk about the controlled burn.
“I’ve never seen anything in 30 years like this and the situation happening in East Palestine,” Brockovich said.
“You all know the story about digging the hole and draining the chemicals in there and lighting it on fire,” she added. “I don’t think that turned out well for anybody.”
In a Feb. 24 television interview, Brockovich said that officials are apparently trying to “gaslight” residents into believing “nothing’s wrong” and that the water is safe to drink and the air safe to breathe.
“It’s very obvious something’s really gone wrong out here,” Brockovich said. “I’ve been out here down on the ground. and they’re really frustrated. Why? They don’t feel that their agencies or their administration care about what’s happened to the communities.”