LEVER TIME - How The Lever Forced Buttigieg To Do His Job
3:38AM Feb 22, 2023
Hello and welcome to leisure time the flagship podcast from deliver an independent investigative news outlet. I'm your host Frank Capello David Sirota is off today but we'll be back next week. On today's show we will be talking about the huge story from the past two weeks the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestina, Ohio. If you've been following this story, you know that the derailment and the ensuing chemical explosion may end up being one of the most severe environmental disasters in US history. Today, I'll be speaking with the levers reporters whose tireless efforts to report on this story has actually driven the national conversation and put immense public pressure on elected officials. It's an extremely important story, and we're going to be going through the entirety of how it is all played out. This week, our paid subscribers will also get a bonus segment, I'll be speaking with independent journalist John Russell, who has been on the ground in East Palestine for the last couple of weeks speaking with railroad workers and union leaders about how this disaster unfolded, and what can be done to prevent them from occurring in the future. If you'd like access to lever time premium, you can head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber giving you access to all of the Levers premium content, and you will be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here. Speaking of which, if you're looking for other ways to support our work, you can share our reporting with your friends and family you can leave this podcast a rating and review on your podcast player, because the only way that independent media grows is by word of mouth and we need all of the help we can get to combat the inane bullshit, that is corporate media. All right, so we're gonna get right into our main story today, which is the Norfolk Southern train derailment. So just a little bit of background if you haven't been following the story on February 3, a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals including vinyl chloride derailed in the town of East Palestine, Ohio, and the vinyl chloride that was on board was ignited in a controlled release. Now as we reported at the lever, the rail industry helped kill a federal safety rule, which was aimed at upgrading the rail industry's braking systems. We also reported how industry lobbyists convinced regulators to exempt trains like this one that derailed from being regulated as, quote, high hazard flammable trains. Now, since the publishing of that original story, the levers reporting has been driving national conversation and the public pressure campaign on transportation officials to do their job and to properly regulate the multibillion dollar railroad industry. This is why independent investigative journalism is so important in today's corporate media landscape. And the lever has shown what kind of real world impact that we can have. So to help break all of this down, I will now be joined by the levers reporters who have been working very, very hard over the last two weeks to provide the type of detailed context that explains how a disaster like this can occur. Who has the power to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future, and how accountability journalism can actually make a difference. All right, I am now joined by the levers Julia rock, Rebecca burns and Matthew Cunningham cook. Thank you all so much for joining me today.
So glad to be here, Frank. Hey, Frank.
Thanks so much for having me on, Frank.
All right. So I want to talk to the three of you not just about this story, but about the entire process of how and why the lever has been reporting on it. I think it's going to be very useful for our audience to learn a little bit more about how real accountability journalism gets done. And in this case, how it has had a real world impact in driving national conversation and pressuring elected officials, namely Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, to actually do their jobs and regulate these giant industries. So we're gonna go through the entire last two and a half weeks of how everything unfolded. Let's start at the beginning. The derailment took place on February 3, and your first story was published by the lever on February 8. So when did you all realize that this story was being underreported by corporate media? And what was the first bit of information that you discovered that made you realize that there was a story to tell about the railroad companies and their lobbying influence? Right, so
the derailment happened on a Friday evening? There really wasn't much coverage, aside from local coverage at first, but the local coverage coming out was pretty horrifying. There are reports from first responders, you know, describing the fact that they He arrived at the scene of the accident to find a chemical smell permeating the air but had no available information about what chemicals they were dealing with. And then, of course, over the weekend, there was this evacuation order of just from Ohio and Pennsylvania governor's telling people, you know, leave your homes immediately, there could be an explosion. And that's concerning to say the least. So, you know, by the time Monday rolled around, I think both Matthew and David had kind of flagged this as a story that was worth looking into one of the first places we often look when we're doing accountability reporting, is lobbying records and seeing what, you know, corporations, in this case Norfolk Southern, which was at fault in the accident, what they've been lobbying against. So it turned out that Norfolk Southern lobbied against better, better braking regulations, other safety requirements, governing trains carrying hazardous materials. One of the other things that we found early on was that the train that derailed in East Palestine wasn't being regulated as what's known as a high hazard, flammable trade, you know, even though it was flammable enough to require local evacuations. And so I think we had a moment where we thought, okay, does this mean that there isn't a story here? And then we thought, actually, this is sort of an even bigger story of regulatory failures spanning multiple presidential administrations.
And, you know, just just to add on to that point, from Rebecca, I think something reporters look for are like tensions or risks or things that aren't really adding up. And, you know, as Rebecca just pointed out, there were these images all over the internet of like a train on fire and a mushroom cloud over a small town in Ohio. And then we're being told by regulators like this isn't a high hazard flammable train. And so I think when something really doesn't add up like that, or it seems sort of illogical, or nonsensical, that that can often be sort of an opening for a story. So So in the case of East Palestine, it was like, there's this big disaster happening, nobody in the Biden administration is talking about it, you know, that this train wasn't being very closely regulated, like what exactly is going on here?
You know, one of the things that we've been talking about in terms of our ongoing coverage of the yawning divide between the rich and the poor, the failure to grapple with the extent to the climate crisis, Wall Street's predatory relationship with the real economy is, is the human impact and trying to have a narrative aspect to what our reporting is, it's grounded in the real experience of humans on a day to day basis. And so I think that's what attracted all of us to this story to begin with is, you know, we had covered the rail negotiations. And we saw that, you know, Norfolk Southern, was paying massive executive compensation. And while spending 10s of billions of dollars buying back their stock, this was a perfect opportunity to both really expose what's happening on the ground, what explodes the regulatory decisions or regulatory inaction that led to this, this disaster happening, but ensuring that it has a really concrete human element and is organically related to the conditions on the ground.
Alright, so let's dig into that initial February 8 reports, since it includes so much critical context to understand, like you said, how those conditions were created for a disaster like this to happen. Now, I know you touched on a little bit already, but just to catch our listener up to speed Tell me a little bit about the trains, braking systems, and how the related safety rules had been watered down by the rail industry and their lobbying arm and why the highly toxic chemical vinyl chloride that the train was carrying was not being regulated, as you mentioned, quote, a high hazard flammable train.
Okay, so frank, let me quickly take you back to 2007 when Norfolk Southern the company whose train just derailed in East palaeocene was bragging to investors that it had just equipped one of its trains with this new updated braking technology known as electric electronically controlled pneumatic brakes ECP brakes, and Norfolk Southern is bragging that these new brakes can reduce stopping distances on trains by up to 60%. They do this by replacing the the older braking system conventional air brakes which stopped cars one at a time with this updated system that uses an electronic signal to stop all the cars basically at the same time. So This is happening in 2007. Then in the early 2010s, there's an uptick of crude oil being shipped on trains in the US during the Bakken oil boom. And some other sort of economic factors into the by the Obama administration is concerned about trains carrying hazardous materials. There are some high profile derailments, there's sort of a lot of concern about, you know, trains traveling across the US with crude oil and other hazardous materials. So the Obama administration moves to issue some safety rules making these trains carrying hazardous materials safer. And one component of those rules was requiring these trains to be equipped with the ECP brakes that Norfolk Southern had been bragging about back in 2007. Norfolk Southern and his lobbying group turn around and fight the safety rules, specifically the ECP breaking rules, saying it would be too expensive to equip their trains with them. Even though you know, in the long run, there might be cost savings. They don't want to spend any money, they don't want these new safety regulations. At the same time, the chemical industry is lobbying against a different part of the rule, which sort of involves what trains would actually be subject to the safety standards, and one federal agency, the agency in charge, in charge of investigating transportation accidents, recommended the Obama administration adopts sort of a broad view of what what a high hazard flammable train is what type of train will be covered by this rule. This recommendation included vinyl chloride, the toxic chemical release from the train that recently derailed in East Palestine. The Obama administration ignores that recommendation sides with the chemical industry lobbyists and comes up with a very narrow definition of a hazardous train. But they do sort of buck the rail industry lobbyists and issue and ECP breaking rule. Norfolk Southern lobbying group doesn't give up there. They then go to push for the rules repeal. The rule was ultimately repealed by the Trump administration. So you have a situation now in 2023, where first, as we mentioned before the train that derailed in East Palo Steen was not being regulated as a high hazard flammable train, in part thanks to these, you know, chemical industry lobbyists, and a rule that would have required much better braking technology at on trains aimed at preventing or mitigating derailments was not in effect.
Thank you so much, Julia. And really important to highlight that this is an issue that spans three presidential administrations. So this is not strictly speaking, the Democrats fault, or the Republicans fault. This is a story of corporate regulatory capture across multiple administrations. And that is really, really important to highlight when discussing the story. So really quickly, before we continue, Matthew, I want to touch on what happened at the end of 2022 in regards to the railroad workers unions, contract negotiations, and the deal that was forced on them by Congress, which effectively broke a potential strike. So how does the story of the rail workers and their working conditions play into what happened in East Palestine?
Well, yeah, I mean, the statistic I always say is, is that 70 years ago, there were a million people working on the rails in the US, and now there's only a little bit over 100,000. And it's carrying an enormous amount of freight. So 40% of the country's long haul freight is transported through rail, the railroad workers have very modest demands, some paid sick leave five days of paid sick leave some real consideration of the disaster that precision scheduled railroading has been, which is just another term for types of practices we've seen in other sectors. The Lean is a common name for it. But there's the Toyota method is another one as well, where it's it's basically just streamlining operations on the backs of workers. How can we get more productivity per work hour out of workers? And that's, that's what precision scheduled railroading has been, how can we make longer trains with smaller crews? And yeah, you know, instead of really taking the railroad workers position seriously, I mean, so yes, rail union negotiations. union negotiations in the transportation sector are different than other unions that are covered by the Railway Labor Act, which is much more complex, but also involves the federal government, as an arbiter at many more stages in the process than union negotiations that occur under the National Labor Relations Act. So the Biden administration had a very active role in these negotiations from beginning to end and as the I didn't administration basically just decided to split the difference between the workers demands and the company's demands and implement more or less a status quo contract. But that failed to acknowledge, you know, the decades of disinvestment into the railroad workforce that the unions were attempting to address. So, yeah, railroad workers weren't having it. It led to a strike situation, a potential strike and Congress in the Biden administration decided to pass a law, which was the right to do under the Railway Labor Act to prevent the workers from striking and to implement the contract. This split the baby contract that the Biden administration had helped union leadership and the railroad industry negotiate. Since that time, there's, it's also worth noting that there's been some significant Fallout inside the unions. So the longtime president of the Brotherhood of locomotive engineers and train men, which is an affiliate of the teamsters union, which represents other rail workers as well, was defeated in his renomination campaign by somebody who very little people knew he wasn't a major figure in the Union beforehand, in large part due to the negotiations. And the way that they went down.
Got it. So really a perfect storm of these railroad workers being understaffed of these companies choosing to move more and more freight with less and less staff. On top of that these safety rules have been watered down. This chemical is not being regulated, really the way that it should be. So it really just kind of created like the perfect storm for something like this to happen. All right, so this first story that you all wrote goes out, February 8, was there a moment after that are a series of moments where you all started to realize that this story was starting to get picked up by other outlets by other journalists? Like when did you realize that it was starting to the people were starting to realize the the the import of what you all had reported on?
That's a great question. You know, part of the context is that there there was some type of media silence on the issue. And it's not that there wasn't any news coverage of it, you know, again, there was a mushroom cloud and, and it was sort of being covered as like this, you know, big crazy disaster in middle America. But But there wasn't any real, like contextual reporting on it. It was just sort of like, Look at this crazy accident that happened. And all these people are freaked out and evacuating. And so our first story was sort of really published in that context of a total, you know, lack of context about the disaster. And it sort of felt like, slowly, as it was sort of the first story to really talk about, you know, safety regulations being rolled back. The buyback error of the railroads, you know, the workforce is being slashed, then it was all the sudden, like sort of politicians were tweeting out the story. And other other outlets were sort of starting to look at some of the conditions that had had laid the groundwork for the derailment, and it felt like it took a few days. And then like the first cable news hits on the east Palestine derailment came maybe like, five or six days after our first story came out.
I just want to say real fast, it has been really incredible to watch all of you work these past few weeks, because not only because of how damn hard you all been working, but also watching as we've been saying this story, Dr. national conversation, it's been really, really incredible to watch. Since then, the lever has been cited by MSNBC, HuffPo, Newsweek, The Guardian, many others, and between the three of you and David, you've all appeared on the problem with Jon Stewart, the takeaway, all things considered Democracy Now Chapo trap house, and of course, your New York Times op ed, which I should mention was the featured story in their opinion section. So what has these past two weeks been like for all of you with all of this coverage, all of this attention and all of these appearances you've been doing? Yeah,
I mean, I think that what's really interesting is just how we were able to kind of latch on to this issue, and then really see it pick up in a way that it hadn't beforehand. So you know, as Julia said, it was it was, you know, really days of kind of silence around this major issue until we got a hold of it. So yeah, it's been very busy. But I think that it's really fantastic that we've been able to get this issue the coverage that it deserves.
All right, so a week goes by at this point, Paul, Blood pressure is starting to mount on the Department of Transportation and its Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Partially because that's his job to regulate the railroads, but also because of a follow up piece that you all wrote about what actual authority he has. So can someone go into a little bit of detail about that? What was Pete claiming was his authority versus what he could actually do?
So full disclosure, I am a former resident of South Bend, Indiana. I was not a fair fan of Pete Buddha judges, mayoral administration, but you know, none of us are waging a personal vendetta here against Secretary Pete, I still have to say I'm actually still kind of shocked that it took him 10 days to say anything at all, just because that's just startlingly inept, politically. So, you know, took him 10 days to say anything, including us all on all the Sunday talk shows, you know, talking about the State of the Union address, the first thing he said on Twitter started with I continue to be concerned, also just poor just on a political performance level. So after that sort of initial statement, you know, the first sort of lengthier statement that we saw from him, he sort of pretended not to have any regulatory power over the situation, you know, specifically, he said that he was constrained by a 2015 law passed. That was what the Trump administration had used to repeal this breaking rule. Now, it is true that there was a 2015 law. It's true that that was what the Trump administration, or what sort of paved the way for the Trump administration administration repealing the braking rule. We were pretty sure it was not true that this meaningfully constrained him, besides sort of the ordinary, you know, administrative procedures that regulators have to go through when doing rulemaking. And when we both looked back at this 2015 law that required the Department of Transportation to re study the efficacy, the cost costs and benefits of of electronic braking. And then also talked to experts we found, yeah, you know, he's the Secretary of Transportation, he has broad regulatory powers over transportation, including the railways, and these things do take time. But, you know, there's no better time to start than in the wake of a horrifying rail disaster.
You know, when one thing that's a tiny bit understated by Rebecca, because she's modest, is that the Department of Transportation started like fighting with the lovers Twitter account on Twitter, we adhere to the highest standards of journalistic ethics. And so we of course, reached out to the Department of Transportation for comment on the story incorporated their comment, which, you know, sort of went along with the fact pattern that we were reporting anyways. And the Transportation Department started attacking our story on Twitter as false without providing any, you know, evidence that the story was false, or what was false about the story, you know, didn't ask for any corrections on the story, which would would sort of be the typical way a government agency might claim that there's something false in the story and then was like responding to Twitter accounts that had responded to our story that had like nine followers sort of calling them out for you know, misunderstanding the Department of Transportation's respond to the accident. I've never really seen anything like this from a federal agencies Twitter account before.
Yeah, it was like the poor widow Department of Transportation.
The peak of our careers V getting the D O T to respond to at cupcake Boehner on Twitter possibly Only time will tell. Yeah.
There's a lot of interesting psychology. So I mean, like, obviously, like our, you know, pure conjecture, but it is, you know, I believe in it fully is that it was Secretary Pete, who was actually using the Department of Transportation's Twitter dri story. ahead if it wasn't him, he was certainly directly approving all the messages, you know, because I just refuse to believe he's to press conscious to not and too much of a control freak to not kind of approve all of those messages. I think that what's interesting is it's, I'd be really interested to know what he thinks his job actually is. Because this is the now kind of the third round of us kind of covering transportation issues very in depth, and it just being And this is the first time you know that he's done anything, you know, but it's each time that was like, with the rail negotiations, it was like where's Pete? Marty was was literally everywhere. Yeah. Now with the rail negotiations and Pete was doing what exactly, yeah, no. Then there was the airline issue. And it was like, where's Pete? You know, and he's still the last time I checked. So, but it's it's sort of it's possible he has now but it took him a very long time to issue fines from the holiday airline debacle, the last time I checked, which was a couple of weeks ago, he had not issued any fines yet. And so I think it's, you know, really, he's just the apotheosis of this kind of Washington culture, where it's like, if it's not about bombing brown people, you know, the government can't do anything, ya know? And shouldn't do anything. And it's, it's inconceivable to act like the government could or would or should do something until, you know, you're forced to by like, you know, a major national outrage, then you can kind of do something because it's clear that the authorizing statutes, not only, you know, tell you that you can do something, but that you should do. And so, yeah, I mean, it's, you know, it's it's, I mean, the statement that came out today is it's I mean, it's a huge vindication for our work. You know, he has said he's committed to rulemaking on ECP brakes, he's committed to rulemaking on HHF. T. Trains. It's a significant step forward. But
yeah, well, let's get into that statement, because that has been the most movement from Pete and the Department of Transportation so far. So just today, we're recording this on Tuesday. After weeks of building public pressure, Secretary Pete appeared on Good Morning America with George Stephanopoulos to make this announcement.
But there's another side of the story, which is making sure that we move forward on rail safety in this country. The NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board is an independent body and they are independently doing their investigative work. But we don't have to wait for their final report to know that some things need to change. And so today, we're pushing forward a three part drive on rail safety, things that we're doing at the Department of Transportation to raise the bar, things that we need help from Congress to do in order to hold rail companies accountable, and things that this industry needs to do differently. I gotta tell you ever since I came into this job, I have seen the power, that multibillion dollar railroad companies wield and they fight safety regulations tooth and nail that's got to change the future cannot be like the past. And I am calling for that change to begin right away.
You're beginning saying you should begin right away. But Ohio Senator JD Vance has said that the administration was loosening rail right regulations.
No, I'm happy to talk with him more if he wants to understand the work that we're doing.
I mean, whenever you whenever you play these clips, I It's so fascinating to me, because I never you know, I don't I don't listen to this. Usually just read and he audibly before he said multibillion dollar
Yeah. He audibly go. Oh, my.
God. So what I mean, what do you all think about this announcement? Is he is he finally rising to the occasion? Is this is this lip service? What do we what do we
mean? Okay, so two things. Number one, we don't have to wait until the completion of this inspection to know that something fundamental needs to change. That's like a very easy day one statement to make, and also the complete opposite of what he has been saying in all of his previous statements, which is we're going to wait until the conclusion of this investigation. I think it's undeniable that without the pressure, you know, from our reporting from now, the broader reporting that's broken out from this, this kind of statement would not have happened. Even so, you know, I'm just looking at the list of things that the Department of Transportation is saying it's going to do, you know, the first the first column is what they're calling on Norfolk Southern to do. Number one is encouraging Norfolk Southern to join a close call reporting program where railroads and employees can report unsafe events. You know, again, this is something that if he wanted to, and I believe he's been encouraged by rail unions to do he could make this mandatory he doesn't just have to ask the railroad nicely. To please let employees report when Trains might crash in the future.
I'm just gonna say very level answer from Rebecca. And the only thing I would add is just like what an about face, that is from how he was, you know, first silent for 10 days, then saying like, Oh, we're constrained, you know, Congress should act if they want to, and then just within a couple of days, calling out the railroad industry and saying that he does have, you know, executive authority to do something, again, to Rebecca's point, like there's until sort of comprehensive rulemaking has happened, you know, until he's actually done something, there is not anything to like, celebrate, necessarily, but but it's just a remarkable shift that can only happen, you know, sort of under immense pressure. And I think the lever did play a big role in that.
Yeah, I think that's right. You know, as well, I think it's, you know, the other question is the devil in the details. So, I had missed that railroad workers united, had published back in September, a very trenchant critique of the administration's proposed rule on a minimum of two person train crew rules, which he brought up again, in this statement today, saying, we're going to move forward on the minimum to person train crew rules, which has been a huge priority of the unions, it's obviously a huge safety issue as well. One person trains is a crazy idea. The railroad workers united group is saying, you know, there's huge holes, basically, and this this rule that needs to be addressed. And so that's the question with all of this stuff is, is how comprehensive is it going to be in the details, I think the other thing that, you know, we'll be continuing to do is, you know, that the, the typical approach is that the railroad industry litigates, any type of meaningful regulation whatsoever. And so I think that's why it's also very important, and we will be continuing to be paying very close attention to what the railroads are doing, what the railroad lobbies are doing. And it seems like this is a moment where they can be shamed into not litigating kind of new rules. But we really, we, you know, we need to kind of stay focused on it. And that's why anybody listening to this should give us money so that we can have more resources to pay attention to this
issue. Yeah. And unlike some reporters on Twitter, we are not fundraising off of a disaster, but rather to continue doing this kind of work, which is reporting on the people and corporations responsible for disasters like this. All right, we're gonna take a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from the levers reporters. Welcome back to lever time. So everyone, before we wrap up, I want to talk a little bit about the response that we've been getting to this story, both positive and negative. So let's start with start with the bad news to start with the negative first. So watching the coverage of the Levers story play out has been a real time lesson in the influence of partisan politics. So can someone go in a little bit of detail about the response we've been seeing from Democratic Party operatives, as well as voters specifically how folks have felt the need to defend Secretary paid rather than pressuring him to do his job?
Yeah, I think, you know, this whole saga has kind of been a health check on the Democratic Party and where they're at, and the prognosis is, is not great. You know, I think we've seen the right sort of predictably latch on to this issue, and, you know, propose that there's some sort of a conspiracy happening where this is being ignored, because he's Palestinian is, you know, a white town that the area voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Of course, that's not true. Unfortunately, this kind of delayed and callous response is par for the course, you know, that we've seen, particularly in communities of color from Flint to, you know, East Chicago, you know, at the lever in our coverage, you know, have said, Here's under the Obama administration, how an important opportunity was missed. Here's under the Trump administration, how the regulations were gutted completely. Now. We're in the Biden administration, fun fact, what's happening? Just that line of questioning, really got people mad. And I think, you know, it kind of continues to be shocking to me. How many people either in good faith or not suggest that regular regulators don't have, you know, any authority to regulate? You know, that it has to be up to Congress? And of course, well, we can't pass things through Congress because Republicans.
Yeah, I mean, I think I that's very similar take to Rebecca's to be sure. I think it's, you know, it's been interesting to on the flip side, you know, to see how Have some Republicans Marco Rubio JD dads have kind of latched on to the facts behind our reporting. And and then the response by liberals in turn, but then, you know, the the complicated factors behind Senate Republicans advocating for accountability when their whole approach to the federal government is to abolish the regulatory state and funnel all of our money, taxpayer dollars into the military industrial complex and not a penny for anything else. I think it's very cynical. on their part, I think there's been a ton of cynicism on kind of both sides. I think, again, going back to our earlier discussion, I think the one thing that's helpful is that even with in the context of this enormous cynicism, which is, you know, frankly, to be expected, we knew that, you know, there's a ton of cynicism in American politics, the fact that our even even despite that, even despite the polarization, the fact that this reporting is making an impact is is very heartening.
All right. And finally, I want to get back to the community of East Palestine and the people who live there, because ultimately, they are the ones who have been suffering through this disaster. So what has been done in terms of disaster relief to help residents and what, if anything, has Norfolk Southern, which is the rail carrier done to help the community. So
there were initially some paltry payments from Norfolk Southern to the town of East Palace, Steen, which I think amounted to $5 per resident, someone correct me if I'm wrong, and they got a lot of flack for that. But But perhaps the more interesting thing, you know, has been Norfolk southerns. involvement in testing efforts after the disaster, there was a really great story in the Huffington Post this weekend about how the initial tests on the water of East Palestine for it to be determined that it was safe, were conducted by a consultant, paid by Norfolk Southern that didn't comply with EPA regulations, and that Governor dewine actually declared the water to be safe, based on those tests, before sort of the official EPA test had declared it to be safe. I know that Norfolk Southern has also been involved in some of the testing within homes, to sort of declare that they're safe for people to return to. And of course, people haven't trusted that very much. There's, there's, you know, it's been interesting speaking with residents, perhaps it would have been obvious, but there's a huge amount of anger, you know, directed towards Norfolk Southern people don't see this as like some unusual accident, they really seem to see it as the product of corporate malfeasance, which obviously, you know, as our reporting has detailed that, you know, it is it's about greed and returning money to shareholders at the expense of, you know, investments in the workforce in safer technologies. And so it's been very interesting to see, both at Norfolk Southern has sort of had a role in in telling people that things are safe, and completely unsurprising that, you know, people wouldn't believe that.
Yes, I think it's also important to note that, you know, there have now been numerous reports of animals dying livestock dying residents feeling sick. So what do we think is happening here? Is this like potential government ineptitude? Is it possible that officials, you know, maybe know a little bit more about the contamination that they're letting on? What do we what do we think is happening at this point?
Yeah, I mean, I'm not going to speculate, you know, I mean, I think that we do know that the EPA failed catastrophically after 911 that the EPA failed and Flint, Michigan, that there's ongoing public health crises that the government is not working hard enough to mitigate. And OSHA is kind of the name of the game when it comes to communities being poisoned, because that's happening every day across America. I think that the residents are totally warranted to be skeptical of what the state and federal governments are doing. I think we need to shine as clear light as possible on what's happening. I think these concerns about testing or worse, some additional reporting, and we'll be looking into that. And it's a very common thing when there's a crisis that involves government malfeasance, you know, there's the whole herd mentality and the whole kind of crisis turtle, you know, mode that they get into. It's not only bad for the public and bad for the public trust usually it's it's also not really legal either, but they do it anyway because there's not there's not accountability. Lee,
just to add to that, you know, without speculating about this particular situation, I think what we know really clearly from again, Flint II, Chicago, environmental after disaster after environmental disaster is that the party is at fault are going to do everything they can to limit their liability and how much they pay out, and that government agencies often have been complicit in that.
Yeah, I mean that, you know, the intercepts had this really interesting article yesterday, looking more in depth at the vinyl industry's kind of role in this. And, you know, I mean, once it's sent me down an interesting rabbit hole about like, the whole push for pvc piping, which is kind of a major thing that vinyl chloride is used to do is, is doesn't actually make that much sense. Like, there's really significant advantages, you know, particularly from an environmental perspective to clay piping, which is what human beings have used for sewer systems for literally 1000s and 1000s. of years. Yeah, you know, that's definitely another area. Well, the one one essential point on that is that the production of the the vinyl chloride is incredibly toxic as well for workers and communities. So that's definitely I think, something we'll be looking into as well. You know, one Fache, just to foreshadow some future reporting that we'll be doing is that Warren Buffett is also one of the largest producers of vinyl chloride, in addition to owning one of the largest railroads that ships vinyl chloride. He doesn't own Norfolk Southern Southern, he owns BNSF. But that's, that's another kind of fascinating thread that I think we'll be digging into some more.
All right. So looking forward, where do we go from here? Do Do we think that the Biden administration or Pete budaj edges, Department of Transportation will actually follow through on some of these changes? Are we just getting lip service while people are angry? Has there been any substantive movement? What what is what is progress look like? Up until this point,
just to echo what Matthew said earlier? I think in some ways, this is like, a very heartening proof of concept that, you know, raising the profile of an issue hammering away at it with real accountability, journalism, gets a response, the response hasn't gone far enough yet. You know, again, we see the Department of Transportation sort of suggesting things that it could require. So yeah, well, we and hopefully others will continue to keep this in the spotlight. Because I think that is definitely what it's going to take.
Yeah, I mean, I think it's really great kind of the work that, that environmental groups have, as Rebecca reported on Friday have started to kind of jump on this, I think that's really essential to kind of keeping this in the public consciousness is kind of Yeah, you know, like, we can't do it alone. You know, we, you know, there needs to end like our readers can't do it alone, either. There needs to be kind of other people kind of organizing and pushing this issue, you know, to ensure that, that both the broader public and also frankly, you know, people in the disaster zone, ya know, are aware of kind of the solutions as well, like that is that is an organizing kind of problem and solution, you know, that that hopefully, folks are ready to take up and again, yeah, Rebecca's article on Friday, really kind of hopefully, points points the way for some future action on on this front.
All right. Well, thank you all so so much, I just want to close out by reiterating that it has been really amazing to watch you all work these past weeks. And I am extremely proud to be part of an organization that does this type of investigative journalism. You know, corporate media rarely reports on how money influences our political system in these substantive ways and how that influence can lead to disasters like this train derailment. And, you know, the lever has truly lived up to its namesake and moved to the levers of power. And you all should be extremely proud of the work that you've done. So thank you again, and thank you for taking a lot of time today with me to talk about it.
Thanks so much.
Thanks so much, Frank. This was fun.
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get overtime premium will get to hear our bonus segment, my interview with independent journalist John Russell, who has been on the ground in East Palestine for the last couple of weeks speaking with railroad workers and union leaders about this train derailment disaster,
I can tell you that there is a lot of rage at the fact that this $55 billion company detonated a toxic train in the middle of town and offered not one, but several insultingly low sums of money to make
up for listeners can subscribe to overtime premium by heading over to lever news.com. When you subscribe, you also get access to all of the Levers website, our weekly newsletters, our live events and all of our premium content. And that is all for the criminally low price of just $8 a month, which is half the price of a standard Netflix accounts. One last favor, please be sure to like subscribe and write a review for labor time on your podcast app. And make sure to head over to lever news.com and check out all of the incredible reporting that our team has been doing. Until next time, I am Frank Capello rocked the boat