Chairman's Rockefeller's Remarks on the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009

December 17, 2009

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, this Committee will markup the bipartisan Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009. My colleagues know I firmly believe this reauthorization is enormously significant.

I believe that when it comes to surface transportation, we must successfully promote the efficient movement of goods. And in order to do this, we must prepare our railroads to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

First, I want to thank Senators Hutchison, Lautenberg, Thune, and Dorgan for their tremendous work on this bill.

This has been a long but extremely productive process, requiring patience, tenacity, and a whole lot of good will. I am deeply indebted to my colleagues for their contributions. 

I also want to thank the stakeholders on both sides – the shippers and the railroads – for your good faith efforts and hard work on this legislation.

I initially came to this issue 25 years ago, after hearing from so many West Virginia shippers – coal and chemical shippers mostly – who came to me, frustrated that their local railroad held incredible power over them.

Again and again, they told me that the two biggest cost factors pushing their operations overseas were energy costs and transportation costs.

So I set out to learn and try to solve the difficult and complicated issues they were facing – like bottlenecks, revenue adequacy, and terminal access.

Over the years, along with longtime allies and friends like Byron Dorgan and former Senator Conrad Burns, I have worked so hard on behalf of the shippers that I have even been accused of trying to reregulate the railroads.

At different times in this effort, it has been clear the Committee wasn't ready to change the way the system worked. And that meant a serious discussion with a full legislative negotiation and the mutual understanding that comes from it never took place.

But this year Senator Hutchison and I – together with Senators Thune and Lautenberg – set out to change all that.

We have worked hard to address shippers’ longstanding complaints and to strengthen and reform the Surface Transportation Board, but we have been committed to doing so in a way that uses old-fashioned competition to strengthen the railroad industry.

We very much want the railroads to be successful as a critical transportation mode for the 21st century – the fastest, cleanest and most efficient method we have of moving goods in every sector across the country and around the world. But we believe the playing field must be level.

We have been working day and night for months with the stakeholders on both sides and I think the result is fair and balanced legislation that both works for the parties and is good for our economy.

I know that neither side has gotten everything it wants in this process, but as an active member of the current health care negotiations you have all heard so much about – I can assure you, I am getting used to not getting everything I want in a bill.

But in all seriousness, the reality of any tough legislative issue is that compromises must be made.

Every side needs to stretch and give a bit to make it work because we know that the work we are doing will make America better and stronger.

That is what the people sent us here to do and that is what we are delivering today. This legislation is about a fair shake for shippers, while still protecting the strength and viability of the railroads so American businesses can stay strong and grow.

That means requiring major railroads to quote “bottleneck rates” and setting standards for “reciprocal switching” and “terminal access” rates.

It means allowing parties to challenge existing and future “paper barriers,” increasing STB scrutiny of future mergers, and giving the board independent investigative authority.

And it means allowing certain complaints to be resolved through binding arbitration, amending the Board’s simplified rate case processes so that it can be used by more shippers and for larger cases, and setting lower fees for filing complaints.

Those provisions and many others in this bill work together to increase competition, strengthen the STB’s oversight authority, and improve shippers’ access to the Board.

As this bill moves to the floor, I will continue to work with Senator Kohl and Senators Hutchison, Lautenberg and Thune, to add strong antitrust provisions to our bill. I have long supported repealing the railroads’ antitrust exemptions and greater antitrust scrutiny of the rail industry.

I am proud of the work we have done and I thank you all for stepping up and creating legislation we can all truly be proud of.

I want to thank my colleagues for this important step on a bill that has been 25 years in the making.

I look forward to seeing this critical legislation through the Senate and signed into law by President Obama.