Mike Seals - March 16, 2023 6:45 am


Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt‘s decision to block tons of contaminated soil from the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment site from being trucked to a disposal facility in western Oklahoma has the full support of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.

While some feel Governor Stitt is politicizing the disposal of the toxic waste as part of a larger effort by Republicans score political points on what they see as the Biden administration’s flawed handling of the derailment, members of the delegation feel Stitt is right to be cautious, in light of what they’re learning about the derailment.

“If we are going to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again, we need to know what caused it,” said Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) at a hearing last week.

Mullin, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on chemical safety, was one of those Gov. Stitt consulted with after learning about the scheduled transport.

“I’ve been in constant communication with Governor Stitt throughout this process,” Mullin said in a statement Monday, “I stand by his informed decision.”

The governor’s decision came after his Washington staff received a letter from the EPA Saturday afternoon explaining that 3,640 tons of contaminated soil had been contracted for delivery, via truck, to Clean Harbors‘ Lone Mountain facility in western Oklahoma.

According to biennial reports posted on the EPA website, from 2015-2020, Oklahoma-based facilities received 528,000 tons of hazardous waste, or about 88,000 tons each year. Records show Lone Mountain accepted far more than any other site — about 43 percent.

A statement from EPA Spokesperson Maria Michalos following news of Stitt’s not to allow the waste into Oklahoma referenced this fact: “Norfolk Southern is under contract with a permitted disposal facility in Oklahoma that is able to accept this waste.” The statement continued, “Governor Stitt is playing politics at the expense of the people of East Palestine, Ohio. It’s not only wrong, it’s unlawful to refuse shipments of waste because they come from other states.”

But, according to aides, Stitt was not playing politics, just being cautious. They said the fact that EPA sent the state a letter in advance of the delivery — something not normally done — sent up a red flag. Beyond that, they said, he didn’t understand why Norfolk Southern couldn’t find a state closer to the accident site to send the waste.

The governor reportedly consulted with the heads of appropriate state agencies, with the state’s two U.S. Senators and Representative Frank Lucas, whose district contains the disposal facility, and even spoke with executives at Clean Harbors before making his decision.

“Congressman Lucas agrees with Governor Stitt that Oklahomans must have a full understanding of the risks and science-backed certainty before waste is shipped to the state,” said a Lucas spokesman in a statement Monday.

“There are too many unknowns for this proposal to shift hazardous waste from East Palestine, Ohio to Oklahoma,” Senator James Lankford tweeted. “Governor Stitt is right to push back.”

The EPA’s Michalos suggested in her statement the agency was considering taking legal action to force Oklahoma to accept the waste. She did not respond to a request for comment from Griffin Media.


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