The NGFA and a diverse range of agricultural producers and agribusinesses urged the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee to recommend the confirmation of Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schulz to serve as new members of the Surface Transportation Board (STB).
The groups noted in an April 10 letter that the STB needs a full and functioning set of members, as the agency “serves a vital role, given its charge to provide fair, objective and fact-based regulatory oversight of a freight rail industry that is exempt from U.S. antitrust law and now consists of only seven major Class I railroads – with two dominant in the West and two in the East.”
Fuchs and Schulz appeared before the committee on April 11 for a confirmation hearing, where they received praise for their past work. Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., described both as “exceptionally well-qualified to serve the nation in the positions to which they have been nominated.” He also pledged to move both nominations out of committee and onto the Senate floor for consideration “as quickly as possible” prior to the Memorial Day recess.
In their letter to the committee, NGFA and 21 other groups noted that the STB is charged with taking a balanced approach in weighing the need for effective competition in the rail marketplace while allowing railroads to earn sufficient revenues to maintain their infrastructure and a national rail system.
“Unfortunately, the STB currently is hamstrung in its ability to act on several important proceedings given the lack of a full complement of commissioners. That is why we particularly appreciate the Committee scheduling a hearing on April 11 to consider these two nominees, and urge their speedy confirmation by the full Senate,” the letter noted.
Fuchs, whose nomination the group strongly recommended earlier to President Trump, “is superbly qualified” to serve as a member of the STB, the letter said, highlighting his background as senior professional staff member for surface transportation and merchant marine for the Senate Commerce Committee. He was instrumental in working with the committee in helping draft and coordinating enactment of the first reauthorization bill since the STB’s establishment in 1996 as the successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission.
During his testimony before the committee, Fuchs noted the STB has “a robust workload before it,” as well as “strong leadership, and talented and dedicated staff, and – if confirmed – it would be an honor work with them and this committee to help ensure an efficient and competitive rail system.” Fuchs also said he would use objective, data-driven analysis to inform his rail regulatory policy decisions. He also specifically referenced recent letters to the STB from NGFA and The Fertilizer Institute voicing widespread service-related problems being experienced by agricultural shippers and receivers.
The agricultural groups also noted Schultz’s pedigree, having worked as deputy general counsel at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the nation’s sixth largest public transit agency in terms of ridership. During her testimony, Schultz repeatedly expressed a desire to foster productive dialogue between rail carriers and their customers.