Norfolk Southern gave donation to Ohio governor one month before East Palestine disaster

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine received a donation from Norfolk Southern just weeks before one of the company's trains derailed in East Palestine, resulting in the release and burn of a hazardous gas over the village.

The company gave Mr DeWine a donation totalling $10,000, the maximum amount allowed by law, according to an investigation by WSYX, a Columbus-based broadcaster who first reported the donations.

In total, Mr DeWine has received $29,000 from Norfolk Southern since he first ran for governor in 2018. The broadcaster also found that the rail company has given a combined $98,000 over the last six years to state and legislative candidates around Ohio.

"Virtually all went to Republicans, although Norfolk Southern hedged its support for DeWine in 2018 with a $3,000 check to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray," the report found.

The company also lobbied Mr DeWine and other state lawmakers extensively during that time.

The report found that Mr DeWine and other state officials were targeted 39 times over the past six years, and other statewide lawmakers were targeted 167 times during the same time frame.

Some of those meetings were intended to fight back against legislation that would require increased safety standards for train operators.

Norfolk Southern has been under scrutiny since the derailment.

Train Derailment Ohio (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Train Derailment Ohio (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to the company saying the NTSB was investigating the accident and warned on Tuesday that the federal government would pursue reforms that would lift fine caps on rail companies and potentially require more human staff to man the trains.

"Norfolk Southern must live up to its commitment to make residents whole—and must also live up to its obligation to do whatever it takes to stop putting communities such as East Palestine at risk," the transportation secretary wrote in his letter. "This is the right time for Norfolk Southern to take a leadership position within the rail industry, shifting to a posture that focuses on supporting, not thwarting, efforts to raise the standard of U.S. rail safety regulation."

The EPA also announced Tuesday that it was using a binding order to force Norfolk Southern to stay in the area and clean-up the village and the surrounding areas under its supervision.

Prior to the order, Norfolk Southern was leading the clean-up voluntarily. The new order will force the company under penalty of fine to continue working in the region and meet the standards set forth by the EPA.