There are environmental takeaways for Cleveland from the East Palestine train derailment
The City Club of Cleveland brought together environmental activists at a forum Wednesday to discuss parallels between the train derailment in East Palestine and environmental issues in Cleveland.
Panelists included representatives with Ohio Environmental Council, Environmental Health Watch, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and River Valley Organizing, an advocacy group that has worked on the ground in East Palestine since the derailment occurred in February.
The Norfolk Southern train passed through Cleveland and other urban areas before derailing in East Palestine. Co-Executive Director of River Valley Organizing Daniel Winston said derailment has a larger impact that residents across the state should consider.
“This is not a Columbiana County issue. This is not a rural town issue. This is not a small-town issue. This is a train issue, and then, bigger than that, this is a petrochemical issue,” he said. “So, we need to make sure that we are taking this fight to the place it needs to be.”
Panelists emphasized the importance of supporting pending legislation in favor of rail safety, such as the Rail Safety and Reducing Accidents in Locomotives Acts, and connecting with local, state and federal representatives to express concerns for environmental well-being.
“Ohioans care about our air, we care about our water, we care about our environment,” Vice President of Public Affairs with the Ohio Environmental Council Emily Bacha said. “Letting those who represent you know that you care about those issues and you want to see action on those is, I think an easy way to do that.”
Executive Director of Environmental Health Watch Kim Foreman defined environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development and implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
Including many voices and experiences in the conversation is essential to achieving environmental justice, Foreman said.
“It's the public's contribution that can influence the regulatory agency's decision,” Foreman said. “Community concerns will be considered in the decision-making process, and decision makers will seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected. And we can look around and see if that's actually happening.”
This is not a Columbiana County issue. This is not a rural town issue. This is not a small-town issue. This is a train issue, and then, bigger than that, this is a petrochemical issue. So, we need to make sure that we are taking this fight to the place it needs to be.Daniel Winston, Co-Executive Director of River Valley Organizing
When it comes to rail safety, Foreman said this has long been an issue with the rail industry trying to find ways to reduce cost, but elected officials should look for ways to reroute trains to prevent future derailments in residential areas.
“The safety protocols are good, but how can we actually reroute the trains from driving right through our communities and our neighbors?” she said. “You don't need to reinvent the wheel. We need to pull that up and take another look at it and work with our local emergency planning commission.”
Panelists also drew comparisons between the train derailment in East Palestine and environmental issues in Cleveland, like worsening air quality that Manager of Climate Resiliency and Sustainability with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress Divya Sridhar said is partially due to companies and plants located near residential neighborhoods.
“Our community right here is suffering from being one of the largest impacted asthma [communities.] We are one of the worst equality communities in the country,” she said. “When you have these businesses, all of them co-located because you feel like … you're maximizing your operations, you're maximizing your logistics because you're prioritizing your profits, and this is where we end up.”
When asked how residents can support environmental action, Winston emphasized the importance of connecting with and donating to local environmental organizations.
“There are tons of organizations that need your money,” he said. “My grandma used to tell me, ‘show me where you spend your money. I'll show you what you care about.’ So, I always tell people, don't lie when you tell them you care about something [but] you don't give a dollar.”