EPA Administrator Michael Regan postponed a climate change trip to Africa with celebrity couple Idris and Sabrina Elba amid fallout from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals on the vehicle to decrease the risk of an explosion, which could have sent shrapnel throughout the small town. Vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was emitted from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Regan was previously scheduled to visit sub-Saharan Africa alongside the Elbas, according to a report from The Grio. An editor’s note affixed to the top of the article now clarifies that Regan postponed the trip “due to his department’s emergency response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which has caused environmental concerns for its residents.”
Idris Elba, whose mother is from Ghana and whose father is from Sierra Leone, was slated to visit the two countries alongside his wife and the senior Biden administration official to note the purported impact of climate change on the region. Sabrina Elba told the outlet that she and her husband connected with Regan, the first black leader of the EPA, about climate and Africa during a summit in Washington at the end of last year and noted “the good work that he’s doing and the plan he’s developed.”
Regan traveled to East Palestine last week as criticism mounted against the White House for offering relatively little attention to the crisis. The EPA told Norfolk Southern, the company at the center of the derailment, on Tuesday that the firm must clean contaminated soil and water, reimburse the EPA for cleaning services that will be offered to residents and businesses, and attend public meetings to update residents on the cleanup process. The agency also threatened to “immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost” if the company fails to adequately complete enumerated cleanup actions.
Regan had told The Grio that his agency would issue several climate announcements during the diplomatic mission. “They’re going to be serious investments. And it’s all based on the president’s leadership,” he told the outlet. “We know that we can’t solve our national security problems, our climate problems, our economic challenges if we don’t have this globalized solution that the Elbas and the EPA are working on.”
The mandate that Norfolk Southern bear responsibility for the cleanup represents the most aggressive response to the chemical fallout from the Biden administration.
“The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA’s order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community,” Regan said in a statement. “Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community.”