The head of the freight rail industry's main trade organization said the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) should defer a handful of widely panned regulatory proposals, most notably forced access, until the U.S. Senate confirms a full slate of board members appointed by President-elect Donald J. Trump. Such a pause is in line with Trump's call for a temporary moratorium on all new regulation and a full review of both proposed and existing rules, as well as the process in which rules are made.
The call for a freeze is also consistent with the same principles that led Henry Waxman and John Rockefeller, then-leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, respectively, to call upon the Federal Communications Commission in 2008 to halt any complex and controversial items until the Obama Administration took office. "The policy landscape in Washington, D.C. dramatically shifted on Election Day, and as such, the freight rail industry believes the STB should suspend its misguided quest to reregulate freight rail," said Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. "Now is not the time for midnight regulations, let alone the enactment of the unfounded proposals currently arising from the STB that will surely fail to meet the rigorous examination promised by future leaders." Speaking at a conference in New York City, Hamberger noted that a new administration has a real chance to ensure that policies are rooted in data and recognize the market realities of today, not the past. He stressed that all government agencies - including the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) - should strive for transparent, empirically driven rules that consider the cumulative effects of regulation, and that Washington leaders can be powerful change agents in fixing a broken regulatory system. "Our industry has made it clear that rules should protect a true free market, and that no agency can spur 'competition' through regulation," Hamberger said. "The current economic regulatory structure enables freight railroads to earn the revenues necessary to invest so we can deliver the rail service our customers expect and deserve. Baseless proposals to reregulate commodities exempt from strict oversight for more than 30 years, or mandates for privately owned companies to use their private infrastructure and equipment for the benefit of competitors are indeed drastic shifts in economic regulation and have no business advancing without a full complement of board members." Congress reauthorized the STB in 2015 for the first time since its creation, expanding the board from three members to five. President-elect Trump will nominate three new members next year, which are subject to Senate confirmation. "The bottom line," Hamberger said, "is that great uncertainty is looming not just over the freight rail industry, but the entire economy. Now is not the time for regulators to jam through rules and inject even more government-induced uncertainty."