WASHINGTON, D.C.- Today, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, spoke at the Consumers United for Rail Equity’s (CURE) sixth annual Rail Customer Day urging passage of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Reauthorization Act of 2009, Chairman Rockefeller’s bill to increase rail competition, improve shippers’ access to regulatory relief, and strengthen the STB’s oversight of the rail industry.
Below are Senator Rockefeller’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you for having me here again today. I hope this is the last time we have to meet to rally for STB reform. Next year, I would like to be talking about implementation, but we need to be honest – it’s a long way from here to there.
We have made great progress on this issue, but the hardest work remains to be done. When I spoke to you last year, I told you that as Chairman of the Commerce Committee, I was going to take another look at the issues we have worked on together for so long and see if we could finally, finally, find a way to pass legislation that addresses the core issues we have identified as unfair and stifling.
We took a hard look at the bills from previous Congresses and we worked together to craft a new bill that upholds their core principles in creative and innovative ways and allows us to move forward in a bipartisan way. I am pleased to have some powerful allies join me in this fight. Ranking Member Hutchison, Senator Lautenberg, Senator Thune, and an old-timer in this battle – Senator Dorgan, who all helped us find the compromise we reached last year. We couldn’t have done it without that alliance.
Now, following the first successful Committee passage of STB legislation in 15 years, we stand closer than ever to achieving the types of reforms that you and I have been working together to enact. We know this fight is far from over. As you have probably seen recently, the atmosphere here in the Senate is very challenging and Floor time to debate bills is precious. Even the most non-controversial bills and nominations have been slowed to a crawl.
To be sure, the only way the bill moves through the Senate is with 60 votes. That is going to require bipartisan support – which we have now – and virtually no opposition – which we are still working toward. So we will continue to work toward reform that helps shippers and gives them a fair shake, but that the railroads can live with too.
You’ve heard me say that I really believe rail will play an important part in the future in the United States. And I think all of you agree with that because it is essential to your businesses. But we need to have a bill that balances the scales at the Surface Transportation Board.
Finding that balance is tricky, and I know that some of the shippers in this room may not get 100 percent of what they want – but I promise, you will see big, meaningful change. Change like:
- Allowing parties to challenge existing and future “paper barriers,”
- Increasing STB scrutiny of future mergers,
- Giving the board independent investigative authority,
- 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.
At the end of the day we want to improve shippers’ access to the Board, and give that Board the authority to put competition first. Of course, getting the bill through the Senate is only one hurdle, the House has to pass a bill too.
I have been in touch with Congressman Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. You know he is also a champion for captive shippers – and we’re both hopeful that we will get this done this year.
Certainly, I am committed to getting this bill done and I won’t stop pushing until we get it enacted into law. Just as I have for the last 25 years, I will continue to fight to deliver the reforms you deserve. And I still need your help.
I know you continue to communicate to my colleagues that you support reforming the STB and that they should too. I sincerely, genuinely, appreciate your support and want you to know just how important each of your efforts is to moving this bill forward. So keep the faith. It has always been an uphill climb but working together, we’re making real progress.