Monday, April 06, 2009

Compromise bill getting close

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A draft version of the so-called railroad/shipper compromise bill that the staffs of House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair James Oberstar (D-Minn., top left) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va., bottom left) have been crafting for the past few weeks with input from the carriers, shippers, and rail labor is expected to be ready by April 10.
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Though details are still sketchy, it’s widely believed therb-kohl.jpghat the bill will reauthorize and enlarge the Surface Transportation Board and revoke regulatory review exemptions for several rail-shipped commodities. Those exemptions were put in place by the STB’s predecessor agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission, shortly after passage of the Staggers Act in 1980; they apply even if the ratio of rate revenue to railroad variable costs exceeds 180%. During his November 2007 second-term confirmation hearing, STB Acting Chairman Francis P. Mulvey indicated he opposed the exemptions.

jay-rockefeller.jpgWashington sources say that Oberstar’s and Rockefeller’s staffers that handle railroad matters, John Drake and Stephen Gardner, respectively, are working closely together to draft the compromise bill. Drake has moved to the Senate Commerce Committee, where he will finish the draft with Gardner, who will  soon be departing Rockefeller’s staff to join Joe Boardman’s Amtrak staff in a strategic planning role.

Meanwhile, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc., top right), Chairmatammy-baldwin.jpgn of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, is expecting his Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009 (S. 146) legislation to be introduced on the Senate floor next month. The House version of the bill, H.R. 233, sponsored by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc., bottom right), is expected to be marked up by the House Judiciary Committee next month.

Washington sources say the anti-trust legislation is little more than an attempt to keep pressure on the  railroads to accept and support the Oberstar/Rockefeller compromise bill. “The entire purpose of the Oberstar/Rockefeller initiative is to quickly end the railroad/shipper squabble and allow the House T&I and Senate Commerce committees to move on to other pressing issues,” says one source. “This is especially true for Oberstar, who wants to get working full time on the successor to SAFTEA-LU, which expires in September. If the draft compromise bill gains the support of railroads, shippers, and rail labor, there would be no impediment to its movement and passage.”