Shippers’ group urges Senate to confirm STB nominees

A photograph of a line of railcars parked in a rail yard.

The Rail Customer Coalition is asking Congress to support the confirmation of two additional people to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) so that the board can reach its full member complement.

STB currently has three members, and Congress allows the board to have five members.

The shippers say having five members would help the Board, whose purpose is to resolve freight rail rate and service issues, to address issues that have arisen because of industry consolidation.

“Small and large businesses alike need a fair and transparent system that facilitates, rather than hinders their ability to efficiently move goods to market. The Staggers Rail Act, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, helped save the rail industry, and initially led to lower rates and a more efficient rail system,” the July 23 letter said. 

“But the Act’s benefits are no longer so widely shared as a lack of competition among railroads – due to widespread industry consolidation – has led to steep premiums for the same or lower quality of service and the imposition of operational changes without concern for their negative impact on shippers,” the letter continued.

And the nominees are…

The Senate Commerce Committee received the nomination of Robert Primus on July 21. The nomination of Michelle A. Schultz has been pending since July 2019.

Primus, a Democrat, has been considered as a possible Board candidate for some time, according to a September 2019 Railway Age article. He has served as chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano, a Democrat representing Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, the nomination of Schultz, a Republican, was stalled last year because Congress tends to pair Republican and Democrat nominees to the Board to go through the nomination process together. 

Schutlz has served as deputy general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, a large public transportation agency popularly known as SEPTA.

“The confirmation of Ms. Schultz and Mr. Primus will allow the Board to live up to its obligations under the Staggers Act and continue to pursue sensible reforms that will benefit everyone. Such  reforms will increase access to competitive freight rail service and market-based rates, while cutting red tape and allowing the Board to operate more effectively,” said the Rail Customer Coalition.

The pairing of two nominations to STB could help both nominations pass through the Committee for a vote in the full Senate. 

However, the U.S. presidential election could also potentially affect the timing of that vote in the Senate, as well the makeup of the existing board. The term of current Board Chairman Ann Begeman is set to expire at the end of December 2020. If Democratic candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is elected, then Biden could choose other nominees. Biden would also need to name a new Chairman since Begeman’s term is expiring. But if President Donald Trump is reelected, U.S. statutes allow Begeman to stay on for one more year.

The Rail Customer Coalition is a group consisting of over 70 trade associations representing shippers in diverse areas such as manufacturing, agriculture and energy. 

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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