A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers has called for a congressional probe into the Ohio train derailment that could put its operator, Norfolk Southern, under Congress’ spotlight, where they evenly spread their political donations.
Earlier this month, a Norfolk Southern Railroad train carrying vinyl chloride, a dangerous colorless gas, derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, a small community located along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
Norfolk Southern opted to release the gas from the cars – potentially putting deadly fumes into the air – to prevent a disastrous explosion. Residents were told to evacuate the area but assured it was safe to return a week later.
If Norfolk Southern faces a congressional probe over the disaster, the company’s connected PAC has positioned itself well between both political parties this past election cycle.
During the 2022 elections, the company’s PAC, the Norfolk Southern Corporation Good Government Fund, disbursed nearly $1.3 million in contributions to candidates and party committees – 52 percent of which benefited Republicans while 48 percent propped up Democrats.
The PAC’s cash included $725,000 to federal candidates. Of this money, 51 percent was to Democrats and 48 percent to Republicans. The PAC also disbursed $543,500 to party committees, with 57 percent making its way to Republican-aligned committees while 43 percent went to Democratic committees, according to a review of data compiled by OpenSecrets.
Company employees fuel such PACs, given corporations themselves cannot donate to federal political entities.
When contacted for comment, a Norfolk Southern spokesperson pointed Fox News Digital to its process for determining political money allocations and oversight of those activities.
“The [Good Government Fund] is a nonpartisan political fund that allows eligible employees and shareholders to pool their political contributions to provide financial support to candidates and office holders who understand the legislative and regulatory issues important to Norfolk Southern,” the company wrote. “The [Good Government Fund] is funded entirely through voluntary contributions from eligible contributors.”
A steering committee consisting of Norfolk Southern employees governs the PAC, which doles out money after at least two authorized individuals initiate a recommended contribution, the recommendation is reviewed and approved by the vice president of government relations and the PAC treasurer, and a check is drawn against the PAC’s account and signed by two authorized individuals.
The bipartisan lawmaker group supporting a congressional probe includes Sens. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Bob Casey, D-Pa., and John Fetterman, D-Pa., NBC News reported.
Following the derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Norfolk Southern, and Ohio officials have conducted air monitoring in the eastern Ohio region and said the tests have shown the air is safe to breathe. However, locals and experts have expressed concern that it is dangerous to return to the area.
Norfolk Southern has offered financial compensation to displaced locals and has worked with the EPA and state officials to conduct air safety tests. Health officials have assured the public that tests have shown the area is safe.
Experts, however, have cast doubt on the air’s safety and have also suggested residents shouldn’t accept the compensation offered by Norfolk Southern.
“The railroad company is responsible for this and for these people who went back to their homes,” Sil Caggiano, a local hazardous materials specialist, told Fox News on Tuesday. “Their homes should have been tested. Their homes should have been cleaned. From the onset, these people were being marginalized in an effort to mitigate this.”
“We want to get out the word to folks. Do not, if you can afford it, again, emphasizing if you can afford it, do not take this upfront money,” Lipson O’Shea Legal Group principal and owner Michael O’Shea, who is representing families in the region, told FOX Business. “But if you do, be aware that these folks might argue later that this is payment in full.”
Fox News’ Thomas Catenacci contributed reporting.