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FEMA Denies East Palestine's Request For Federal Assistance

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Friday, Feb 17, 2023 - 05:29 PM

Submitted by 'BlueApples',

Given the minuscule size of East Palestine, Ohio and its neighboring towns, it's clear that an arduous road lies ahead as the communities affected by the chemical spill engulfing the area look to resolve what is becoming one of the world environmental disasters in US history. With just about 5,000 residents, it's clear that the town itself is not equipped with the resources needed to address a problem that would overwhelm even the nation's largest metropolises. While the situation has finally begun to garner some national attention from mainstream media that initially seemed to blacklist the crisis, the gravity of the situation is still apparently lost upon the Biden Administration. According to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") has denied his state's request for federal assistance for the residents of East Palestine.

Governor DeWine spoke with White House officials on Thursday morning to apprise them of developments and concerns surrounding the release of chemicals into the air, soil, and water since the disaster occurred on February 3rd that was exacerbated by a controlled burn of the toxic material. According to a press release from DeWine's office “FEMA continues to tell Governor DeWine that Ohio is not eligible for assistance at this time." No one from New Orleans could be reached for comment.

"Governor DeWine will continue working with FEMA to determine what assistance can be provided.” Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine's office said, expounding on the revelation by explaining that FEMA determined that the basis of the disaster laid outside of the qualifications for federal assistance from their agency. FEMA asserted that assistance from its agency pertains to "traditional" disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and the like. “You are eligible for FEMA assistance when you have problems that aren’t covered by third parties,” said Tierney. “The system is set up so taxpayers are the payers of last resort.” DeWine's office stated it also requested direct support from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Health and Emergency Response Team, and one of the great beacons of the interest of public health and well-being -- the CDC.

Nevertheless, the situation rapidly spiraling out of control has made it impossible for Biden's office to ignore in its entirety. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre apparently actually answered questions when she confirmed that President Biden had spoken directly with Governor DeWine about the need for federal assistance to curtail the ongoing damage. Jean-Pierre did advise reporters that the US Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") has been at the site of the chemical spill since February 4th, one day after the accident occurred. The press secretary assured the residents affecting by the disaster that EPA officials were working in concert with state and local officials leading the emergency response effort.

Despite vowing to provide the public with transparency into the federal response in that relief effort, EPA administrator Michael Regan offered curious remarks concerning the magnitude of the danger residents of the area face that conflicted with other assurances downplaying the risks. Regan explained that his agency categorized the disaster as a "fresh accident" that presented unsafe conditions on the ground that put EPA scientists and engineers in harms way. The EPA's reticence to offer a no-holds-barred response to the situation in East Palestine serves as a reminder of the lack of urgency that has been ascribed to federal institutions that the small town is depending on for resources in their handling of the emergency.

Regan's remarks on the agency's role concluded with him offering the reassurance that he wanted to be sure that their response would not be putting anyone at the EPA into harm's way, despite the absence of a full-scale relief effort doing just that to residents of East Palestine. The EPA's position is that it will continue to monitor the situation in East Palestine so that it can identify when to safely send appropriate emergency personnel to the site.

That lack of urgency and cognitive dissonance so succinctly demonstrated by the EPA is not limited to the federal government alone. When East Palestine residents gathered for their first town hall meeting since the controlled burn of carcinogenic chemicals launched a toxic miasma into the air, they were confronted with one notable absence. Despite operating the track which the train carrying the hazardous materials detailed from, Norfolk Southern Railway officials released a statement that they would not be attending the East Palestine Town Hall Meeting, citing safety concerns.

"Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties. With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening." the statement from Norfolk Southern read. Instead of meeting residents face-to-face, the railway provided a phone number for its Family Assistance Center for residents of East Palestine to call.

Despite the absence of accountability from the federal government and the railway alike, one elected official offered a potential way forward that he hoped would meet the gravity of the situation in East Palestine. Sherrod Brown, Ohio's Senior Senator, called upon Governor Mike DeWine to officially declare the chemical spill in East Palestine as a disaster. “A man-made disaster of this scale, scope, and significance necessitates a response and deployment of resources that are commensurate in scale and scope,” Brown wrote to DeWine. “Additional federal resources can and should play a critical role in helping our fellow Ohioans get back on their feet and ensure that their community is a safe place to live, work, and raise a family.” he compelled the Governor, highlighting how an official decree of a disaster could pave the way for much-needed federal assistance.

As officials at the state, local, and federal levels search for answers, their response to the disaster in East Palestine is underwritten by concerns surrounding their and Norfolk Southern Railway's collective responsibility for what caused the train derailment in the first place. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, potential mechanical failures of the train's wheel bearings, axles, and adjacent hotbox detectors designed to alert the crew were being examined to determine the cause of the accident. The NTSB stated a preliminary report on its findings would be released within 30 days. However, a statement made on Tuesday by the NTSB points to a wheel bearing failure as the likely cause of the derailment.

The over-arching concern about safety and the accountability of railway operators and their regulators has reverberated well-beyond the rural landscape of small-town Ohio. Train derailments have become en vogue all of a sudden with three high profile incidents occurring in Texas, South Carolina, and Michigan. On the day Governor DeWine's office informed the public that FEMA had denied his state's request for emergency assistance, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in Van Buren Township, Michigan. Despite at least one car carrying hazardous materials, officials were able to confirm that the most recent derailment did not constitute a hazmat situation. Despite that, the EPA dispatched a team to the site of the incident to "ensure public safety" (read: save face) according to Rep. Debbie Dingrell, Representative of Michigan's 6th Congressional District.

Back on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, FEMA is living up to the legacy it made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina longer than a decade ago. Given that context, the denial of emergency assistance to East Palestine should come as no surprise. With so much uncertainly surrounding the short and long term effects of the chemical disaster, one outcome residents of the affected area can see clearly is a continued disdain for government officials whose unchecked systematic failures created a circumstance for this crisis to occur to begin with. Unfortunately, no amount of federal assistance will ever be available to curtail the dangers that presents.

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