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Senate panel Chairman Tom Carper has a lot of questions for Norfolk Southern

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. I spoke with him about the testimony that's coming today. So, Senator, what would you like to hear from Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw while you have him under oath?

TOM CARPER: What happened? Where did they go wrong? Where did we go wrong? What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again? What are we doing to help the people and the folks who call East Palestine home? What are we doing to help them? What more needs to be done to try to help them put their lives back together? The main thing here is we want to get to the truth. How did this happen? What could have been done to prevent it? What more needs to be done? We want a commitment from Norfolk Southern to do what is the morally right thing to do. As it turns out, there are freight trains or trains going all over our country, including not that far from where we live here in Wilmington, Del., that are carrying hazardous cargo. And we're seeing a number of - just in the last week or so, a number of incidents involving Norfolk Southern, which are disconcerting.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, Senator, I think a lot of people - especially in Ohio, but all over the country - are waiting for answers.

CARPER: It's not just the people in eastern Ohio that are looking for answers - or in Ohio or in Pennsylvania. People all over the country - I think what's going on here, people are putting - around the country, putting themselves in the shoes of the folks who live in East Palestine and thinking about, like, how would I want to be treated if I lived there or my family lived there or worked there?

MARTÍNEZ: Senator, how would you say the EPA has handled the immediate aftermath and the longer-term effects?

CARPER: I'd like to say - I've said it forever - that everything I do, I know I can do better. And I'm sure that's true in this instance as well. Having said that, EPA had a team literally on site within hours of the incident. They continue to have a significant presence. They've opened up a center in which people in the community can come and bring their concerns and literally to share information with EPA.

MARTÍNEZ: I know there are bills in the House and Senate to make trains carrying hazardous materials safer. What's the outlook for those bills?

CARPER: I think there's an opportunity here for the House and the Senate, Democrat and Republican, to work in a bipartisan manner. That's what Senator Capito of West Virginia and I do. She's the senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee. I get to chair the committee. Almost everything that we do is on a bipartisan basis. And we have a bipartisan panel that will be testifying in this hearing.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, 'cause if trains are going to be carrying hazardous materials, I mean, what could be done to make sure train lengths are more manageable, to maybe more quickly troubleshoot problems that could turn into environmental disasters?

CARPER: Well, we'll have the opportunity to drill down on all of that and the other committees of jurisdiction. This is just not all in the Environmental Protection Committee, EPW Committee that I chair. But this is a shared responsibility, and it includes Commerce Committee and other committees in the House. And we'll all do our jobs. And the important thing is that we do this together.

MARTÍNEZ: In the past, after the Federal Railroad Administration imposed stricter rail safety regulations, Congress later watered them down. Why is that? And is that something at all that your committee will be able to address with Norfolk Southern?

CARPER: Yeah, I'm not sure that our committee by itself can address that. It's fair game. I guess it will come up during the course of the hearing.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you expect any legislation to come out of your committee? And what could it possibly do, if so?

CARPER: Well, I would expect - the legislation has been introduced by three of my colleagues today, two Democrats and Republican. That is going to be discussed, at least in part. Part - it comes probably in the jurisdiction of several committees.

MARTÍNEZ: That's U.S. Senator Tom Carper from Delaware. Senator, thanks.

CARPER: Hey, nice talking to you. Thanks so much. Keep up the good work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.