But before the hearing begins on Thursday, which will run for 19 hours over two days, community members will get their chance at the microphone.
THE community meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening is expected to be a place for residents to learn more about the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigative process. But residents could also raise concerns about water quality, dead fish, falling home values, and their children’s unexplained nosebleeds.
“There are some people in the city who are not evacuated at all,” said Misti Allison, an eastern Palestinian parent who became the face of the community after testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee in March about the disaster. “But then there are still some people, even months later, who are still relocated. And some of those people, they even come to their house, they’re there for like an hour and they start to get eye irritation or they start to get rashes.
In the months since the cameras — and everyone from Donald Trump to Erin Brokovich and everyone else who has used eastern Palestine as a political stage — have left the city, anxieties and resentments have continued to worsen. Many still believe that the federal response has been « lackluster, » in Allison’s words, or that Norfolk Southern’s repeated promises to « make things right » have been honoured.
A railroad-run family welfare center sometimes reimburses people for water filters and housing away from home — and sometimes not, Allison said.
Norfolk Southern said it has so far provided $17 million in assistance to nearly 10,000 families and that part of the confusion may stem from who is and who is not inside the evacuation zone.
And after initially resisting the idea, Norfolk Southern has agreed to help compensate East Palestinian homeowners for the decline in their home’s value, especially important for those who are feeling insecure and are eager to relocate but can’t sell. their home for something like what it was worth before the derailment.
Even if the cameras are gone, politics is never far from the surface. Republicans continue to bash President Joe Biden for failing to visit the site of the toxic derailment: On Tuesday, on the eve of the field hearing, the Republican National Committee accused him of lying about his plans to go to eastern Palestine and noted that instead, the president was in California attending a fundraiser.
Back in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine is holding on calls from some protesters to declare an emergency – his office says FEMA made it clear they would reject it – e Norfolk Southern is battling state and federal lawsuits trying to force the railway to cover a greater part of the costs of the reclamation. Some residents have asked the CDC to conduct a long-term health study, amid fears that a « cluster of cancers » could strike the community down the line. When the CDC sent a team to eastern Palestine in March to study the health effects of the disaster, half the team got sick.
If Wednesday night’s community meeting goes off-script and becomes a forum for residents to vent their frustrations and fears, this is the kind of dirty laundry that could be aired.
The investigative hearing that follows will contain testimony on the full range of technical details involved in the derailment – tank car specifications and the correct temperature setting for alarms to start sounding about overheating wheel parts – but a focus will likely be on the decision to vent and burn toxic chemicals.
DeWine’s publicist Dan Tierney said the choice was between a controlled release or « an uncontrolled release with a catastrophic failure of the rail cars that could have resulted in shrapnel being sent a mile in any direction. » NTSB will review the decision making process and the outcome of that process.
Hundreds of pages of evidence will be released as part of the NTSB filing early Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, railroad safety legislation could come to the Senate next month. Ohio Republican Sen. JD Vance, who worked to get nine Republicans to support the bill for a filibuster-proof majority, said he was confident he had the votes to pass the bill.
A version of this first appeared in June 20 edition of POLITICO Nightly.