The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee were scheduled to markup legislation to reform the Surface Transportation Board Wednesday, March 25.

The bipartisan "Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015" (S. 808), which has broad support from agricultural and manufacturing organizations, including the Agricultural Retailers Association, was introduced last week by Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

"Rail service plays a critical role in distributing fertilizers, crop protection materials, and other essential agricultural products. ARA strongly supports the efforts of Senators Thune and Nelson to push legislation that will create meaningful reform to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and move the agency into the 21st Century," said Daren Coppock, President and CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association. "An efficient and economical freight rail system is critical to farmers and agricultural retailers. The ongoing rail delays and associated increases in shipping costs highlight the need for a more independent STB."

ARA signed onto two letters of support sent to the committee on Tuesday. (Rail Customer Coalition | Allied Agribusiness)

The Thune-Nelson bill is designed to make the STB work more efficiently and equitably through simple improvements such as allowing Board members to talk to each other, providing timelines for rate cases, making arbitration meaningful and allowing the Board to investigate complaints. The legislation is similar to last year's reauthorization bill (S. 2777).

Some key provisions of the Thune-Nelson STB Reauthorization Act include:

  • Authorizes the STB through FY 2019 (previous authorization lapsed in 1998);
  • Expands voluntary arbitration procedures to make rate cases quicker and less costly;
  • Provides the STB with the authority to initiate investigations on matters other than rate cases;
  • Sets rate review timelines for the stand-alone cost test;
  • Requires the STB to establish a database of complaints and prepare quarterly reports on them;
  • Expands membership from three to five members and allows board members to talk with one another without a prior public hearing notice.

Other organizations supporting this legislation include American Chemistry Council; American Farm Bureau Federation; The Fertilizer Institute; National Association of Chemical Distributors; National Farmers Union; National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Renewable Fuels Association.

Learn more about the Rail Customer Coalition.