January 31, 2024 

FOIA Request Filed Seeking Transparency on FEMA’s Role in East Palestine Train Derailment Response 

WASHINGTON — We have submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seeking access to records and communications related to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order issued on September 20, 2023. The Executive Order instructed FEMA to designate a federal disaster recovery coordinator to oversee long-term recovery efforts in response to the East Palestine Train Derailment (EPTD). 

The FOIA request specifically targets FEMA’s role in assessing unmet needs and determining the potential issuance of a National Disaster Declaration in East Palestine. Records and communications are sought for the period from February 3, 2023, to January 30, 2024. 

The request covers all records and communications involving FEMA, including any internal FEMA communications and external communications between FEMA and The White House, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as other relevant stakeholders. It also extends to communications with East Palestine village officials, Norfolk Southern, EPA and local community leaders. 

Our FOIA request aims to ensure transparency and access to information concerning FEMA’s actions and assessments following the EPTD. The incident had significant public health and other impacts on the community, and this FOIA request seeks to shed light on how the appointed FEMA coordinator, James McPherson, investigated the community’s unmet needs and understand why the FEMA report has not been released to the public. The report was slated to be released weeks ago. Additionally, multiple residents reported being unable to reach McPherson to weigh in on the unmet needs in East Palestine. 

Our Environmental Investigator, Lesley Pacey, commented, 

“We believe that the public has a right to know how federal agencies like FEMA handle disaster recovery efforts and assess unmet needs in communities impacted by incidents like the East Palestine Train Derailment. This FOIA request is part of our ongoing commitment to promoting government transparency and accountability in a community that has been suffering and unable to permanently relocate away from East Palestine.” 

We anticipate that the FOIA request will lead to the release of valuable information regarding FEMA’s role in the East Palestine Train Derailment response, which will contribute to a better understanding of the federal government’s actions and inactions in such critical situations.  

Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director  

Email: [email protected]  

Phone: 202-449-6042  

Government Accountability Project  

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.