Norfolk Southern permeates its own hometown, Norfolk, Virginia, with coal dust.




(Where to complain)


(What YOU can do)



(SEE the polluting) 

Swipe Tests

(How and Why)


(Coal terminal)

Smigiel Letter

(City Council resolution)


(The published facts)


Norfolk Southern

Fortune 500 Corporation Does It's Hometown Proud?

Norfolk, Virginia, is a port city (population about 250,000) on the east coast of the United States. Since Norfolk has one of the best natural harbors in the world, it's no wonder it's the home to the world's largest naval base. Due to the convenient proximity of the central Appalachian coal fields by rail, Norfolk is also the home of the Northern Hemisphere's largest and fastest coal exporting facility. Millions of tons of coal per year ship out of the Lamberts Point Coal Loading Terminal operated by Norfolk Southern.

Norfolk Southern Corporation, the only Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in Norfolk, operates over 24,000 miles of railroad track in 22 states in the eastern U.S, and coal is the chief commodity that Norfolk Southern's railroad hauls. According to Norfolk Southern's 2017 Annual Report, Norfolk Southern also hauls in tons and tons of cash for itself:

Gross annual revenues of $10.551 billion!

Annual profits of $1.922 billion — over 18% of revenues!

And Norfolk Southern believes in giving back to the community. According to its Norfolk Southern's 2015 Contributions Annual Report, total contributions of the Norfolk Southern Foundation (which directs and implements Norfolk Southern's charitable giving programs) were a whopping $7.35 million! — which is spreaad around several states. About $2.13 million of that went to organizations in and around Norfolk.

Artist's conception of Norfolk Southern's headquarters building soaring above its hometown's grit and grime (the jaded artist happened to live and breathe to near Norfolk Southern's coal exporting terminal in Norfolk):


Norfolk Southern's Stellar Image

But do the simple math...

On November 19, 2014, the eminent CIVIC Leadership Institute (a group of local business leaders) presented its prestigious 2014 Corporate Darden Award for Regional Leadership to Norfolk Southern. According to the CIVIC, Norfolk Southern committed more than $10 million to nonprofit groups in Hampton Roads in the preceeding five years. That means that for those five years Norfolk Southern's donations to organizations in Hampton Roads averaged about $2 million per year.

Norfolk Southern's entire annual donations of approx. $7 million is comparable to a person making $50,000 a year donating about $30, or roughly 1/15th of 1% of income. And that $2 million of it that gives to Hampton Roads organizations, or less than 1/50th of 1% of Norfolk Southern's revenues, is like $10 to the person making $50,000 per year.

Note to the CIVIC Leadership Institute: Of course it's good that Norfolk Southern gives something, but such a tiny fraction of 1%? Maybe it should take a bit more than that for you to get all goo-goo eyed and laudatory. To repeat, the charitable chump change that Norfolk Southern spreads around Hampton Roads is the moral equivalent of a guy making $50,000 a year donating all of about ten bucks.

Norfolk Southern, Lamberts Point, Pier 6, Andria McClellan

As often happens at the Virginia Symphony at Chrysler Hall in downtown Norfolk, some Norfolk Southern executive stands up and crows about how Norfolk Southern is sponsoring the night's performance — is that public bragging right part of Norfolk Southern's deal with the symphony? Then there's the thunderous applause for the presumed extraordinary largess of Norfolk's only Fortune 500 corporation. So how much does Norfolk Southern, with all its billions in revenues and profits, give its hometown symphony? A cool million? Maybe two? In 2016 Norfolk Southern gave the Virginia Symphony $94,000.

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

There's nothing more graphic than — a graph:

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has assured us that corporations are persons, with all the rights and privileges of real, live persons with actual hearts and souls and consciences, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, corporations seem different from you and me — that is, assuming we're the kind of persons who give more than 1/15th of 1% of our annual incomes to charity.


WOW! The top guys at Norfolk Southern make fortunes!

Norfolk Southern doesn't scrimp when it comes to paying its top executives. Its CEO alone walked away with a $10.2 million in 2017. In layman's terms, that's over $5,000 an hour! — assuming he's working a full 40-hour week, with only a two-week vacation. In other words, way more than all the company's charitable largess to its own hometown:

Norfolk Southern Execs Get Whopping Big Pay Raises

Letter to the Editor about the CEO

Now the CEO could justify his phenmenal annul compensation by pointing out that it actually amounts to a tiny fraction of 1% of the company's huge revenues. Fine. After all, he's only one guy. But then, considering that his relatively "paltry" compensation (if you look at it that way) amounts to way more than all the donations that Norfolk Southern makes to local community organizations affecting many, many local citizens — how does that argument work again? And his relativly miniscule compensation even amounts to more than what it would take to stop much of the polluting that Norfolk Southern allows to go on in the city, namely, that $10.2 million comes to more than the estimated $10 million it was once estimated it would take to stop the coal dust emissions from Norfolk Southern's massive rotary railcar dumpers.


Why Should NS Give Back Anything?

According to some hardnosed business types, corporations are about one thing and one thing only — profits. But even the greediest corporations consider garnering the goodwill of the community in which they do business to be part of the cost of doing business. There are benefits to be had from getting along with ones community and being well thought of by it, especially if the business the corporation is doing is a messy affair that involves polluting the environment of that community. So what's it worth to a large corporation to keep its neighbors pliant and quiet about the messy stuff?

Norfolk Southern's charitable largess of 1/15th of 1% of revenues (and only 1/50th of 1% going to its hometown) seems to be a remarkably efficient investment indeed, considering all the goodwill that Norfolk Southern seems to garner from it in return, including the ability to use the community's land and port to do business while fouling its air, land, and water, and possibly even harming the health of its citizens — and all with nary a squeak from the public, much less a mass flourishing of pitchforks. Yes, Norfolk Southern gets a huge A+ in public relations!


What about Doing the Right Thing?

"We take seriously our commitment to being a good neighbor, and our commitment to the environment by, among many other things, reducing our own carbon footprint and actively supporting the development of carbon-capture technologies."

— James A. Hixon, a Norfolk Southern vice president

So why not start with capturing that coal dust, Mr. Hixon? It's full of carbon. Look at it this say: Now, after getting away with its polluting for all these decades, can't Norfolk Southern afford to spend just a tiny sliver of all its accumulated wealth to finally stop that polluting?


"If Norfolk Southern means what it says about being a good neighbor to the community and the environment, then it is time for them to listen to their neighbors, acknowledge that the black grit being deposited on our houses and in our lungs is actually toxic, unhealthy coal dust from their operations and take action to stop it. Getting a ‘grandfather pass’ from the Clean Air Act by DEQ to dump unlimited amounts of a poisonous substance into our air and water does not relieve them of a moral responsibility to do the right thing for the community."

— Joe Cook, local environmental activist

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

Norfolk Southern, Lamberts Point, Pier 6, Andria McClellan

Neighborhood Residents' Concerns About Norfolk Southern's Polluting


If Norfolk Southern were just a small struggling corporation with a really tight profit margin instead of the wealthy Fortune 500 giant that it is, Norfolk Southern's polluting would still be wrong, though it might be more understandable. But by donating only a tiny percentage of its annual revenues, Norfolk Southern gets to pollute all the way across Virginia with impunity, with nary a squeak from the politicians or the public, much less a mass grabbing up of pitchforks. After all, why should Norfolk Southern cough up the chump change it would take to stop fouling the environment with all that grimy coal dust when it can toss out an even smaller pittance in the form of charitable donations and still come out smelling like a philanthropic rose?

Norfolk Southern, Lamberts Point, Pier 6, Andria McClellan







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