At a hearing before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee on Thursday, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw insisted that he was “deeply sorry” for last month’s train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. But throughout the hearing, he seemed hesitant to commit to measures that could begin to make it right.
Throughout the hearing, Shaw played a game of evasion. He answered question after question with “I am committed to…” before failing to commit to anything of substance. Shaw espoused ideals, but never endorsed the concrete examples that senators presented for how to enshrine them.
Take, for example, his baffling exchange with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass). Sen. Markey mentioned that Norfolk Southern spent $3.4 billion in stock buybacks and that it made $3.3 billion in profit last year. Shaw said, “I am committed to making Norfolk Southern’s safety culture the best in the industry.”
“Well, you’re not having a good month,” Markey shot back, referencing the other Norfolk Southern train derailment in Ohio this weekend. Markey then asked if Norfolk Southern would compensate homeowners for diminished property values resulting from the derailment.
“Senator, I’m committing to do what’s right,” Shaw said.
“Well, what’s right is, a family that had a home worth $100,000 that is now worth $50,000 will probably never be able to sell that home for $100,000 again,” Markey said. “Will you compensate that family for that loss?”
“Senator,” Shaw repeated, “I’m committed to do what’s right.”
“These are the people who are innocent victims, Mr. Shaw,” Markey said. “These people were just there, at home, and all of a sudden, their small businesses, their homes, are forever going to have been diminished in value. Norfolk Southern owes these people. It’s an accident that is basically under the responsibility of Norfolk Southern, not these families. When you say ‘do the right thing,’ will you, again, compensate these families for their diminished, lost property values for homes and small businesses?
“Senator, we’ve already committed $21 million, and that’s a down payment,” Shaw said.
“That is a down payment,” Markey said. “Will you commit to ensuring that these families, these innocent families, do not lose their life savings in their homes and small businesses? The right thing to do is to say, ‘Yes, we will.'”
“Senator, I’m committed to doing what’s right for the community, and we’re gonna be there,” Shaw said.
Sen. Edward Markey questions the CEO of Norfolk Southern on the company's safety regulations following the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
"You're not having a good month," the senator says. https://t.co/zRa2mfDdWg pic.twitter.com/ZFYjMPSpkX
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 9, 2023
Shaw waffled once again when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) asked, “Will you pledge today that you will do no more stock buybacks until a raft of safety measures have been completed to reduce the risk of derailments and crashes in the future?”
Shaw’s response: “Senator, I will commit to continuing to invest in safety.”
Senator Merkley pressed Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw to commit to halting stock buybacks for wealthy shareholders until he completes the major safety overhauls that the company admits it needs to undertake.
The CEO refused to commit. pic.twitter.com/3rlIXRKPg9
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) March 9, 2023
OK, how about paid sick days? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Shaw if he would commit to guaranteeing paid sick days to his entire workforce.
“I will commit to continuing to discuss with [our employees] important quality-of-life issues with our local craft colleagues,” Shaw said.
“With all due respect,” Sanders said, “you sound like a politician, Mr. Shaw.”
WATCH: Complete exchange between @SenSanders and Norfolk Southern Railway CEO Alan Shaw. pic.twitter.com/9b45rLIW3p
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 9, 2023
Watch the full hearing here: