U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and lead Senate sponsor of S. 808, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Reauthorization Act of 2015, issued the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill by voice vote:
“When the ability to transport products to and from South Dakota is jeopardized, it’s the farmers, ranchers, businesses, and ultimately the consumers who pay the price,” said Thune. “This bill, which I hope is signed into law without delay, will help address the uncertainty encountered by businesses and agriculture producers who are forced to deal with the STB, and it will increase the board’s accountability. By finding common ground among many different rail customers, shippers, and railroads themselves, we are reforming the STB for the first time since the board’s establishment in 1996. This is good news for states like South Dakota that depend on freight rail as a critical tool for shipments – coming or going.”
The Senate Commerce Committee approved S. 808 by voice vote on March 25, 2015, and it cleared the Senate by unanimous consent on June 18, 2015. The bill now heads to the president for his signature.
Highlights of S. 808:
- Improves the STB’s current dispute resolution process by setting timelines for rate reviews and expanding voluntary arbitration procedures to address both rate and service disputes;
- Ensures the STB has the authority to proactively resolve problems before they escalate into larger disputes by providing the STB with the ability to initiate investigations on matters other than rate cases; and
- Improves the STB’s structure and decision making processes by expanding the board membership from three to five, and with proper disclosure, allows board members to talk with one another.
The STB is the federal regulatory body responsible for economic oversight of the nation’s freight rail system. Run by a three-member bipartisan board, the agency has regulatory jurisdiction over railroad rates, mergers, line acquisitions, new rail-line construction, line abandonment, and other rail issues. The STB was created by Congress in 1996 as the successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Since that time, the STB has not been reauthorized or substantively reformed.
The Senate Commerce Committee, of which Thune serves as chair, has jurisdiction over our nation’s freight and passenger railroads, and is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. In addition, Thune previously served as South Dakota State Railroad Director under former Governor George S. Mickelson from 1991-1993. At Thune’s request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a report earlier this year that concluded the rail backlog in 2013 and 2014 lowered corn, wheat, and soybean prices in the Upper Midwest and caused shippers to pay record-high railcar premiums, 28 to 150 percent above the average previous levels for roughly 65 consecutive weeks.