Begeman Named Permanent STB Chair

Ann Begeman has been named the permanent chairman of the Surface Transportation Board by President Donald Trump. Begeman, 53, has been acting chairman since January 2017.

She is serving her second and final term on the STB, having been initially named as a Republican representative by President Barack Obama in 2011. Federal law allows STB members to serve in a 12-month holdover period after their initial appointment expires.

By law an STB member cannot serve more than two five-year terms. Begeman will leave the STB on Dec. 31, 2020.

Begeman is the fourth woman to serve as permanent STB chair since it became a post appointed by the president.

Before being named to the STB, Begeman spent most of her career as a legislative aide to Senate Commerce Committee Republican members, including Larry Pressler of South Dakota, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and John McCain of Arizona

A South Dakota native, Begeman was raised on a farm and has shown an understanding of how railroad mergers and line abandonments have contributed to rural America losing 70 percent of its rail competition since the 1970s.

Humboldt, South Dakota, where Begeman once lived, has lost its rail service to abandonment, leaving the three local grain elevators less competitive with those enjoying direct rail service in a state where half the grain and oil seeds move by rail, and 45 percent of the state’s 2,000 rail miles are owned and operated by BNSF.

Railway Age magazine has described Begeman as an “analytic owl, a fiercely independent thinker and certainly no milquetoast.”

The magazine said she has displayed “a prickly attitude toward an agency culture that seeks to preserve the status quo to maximize chances of prevailing when its decisions are challenged before appellate courts.

Yet her background in rural America has also played a role in her thinking. “Ann becomes most interesting when her heart and head go in different directions,” said an attorney for captive shippers to Railway Age.

The chair of the STB controls the agency’s docket, deciding when to move cases forward, which staff to assign to which aspects of cases, and the timing of draft decisions that will be circulated to other STB members for a vote.

Since last September Begemen and Deb Miller, a Democrat, have been the only members of the STB. The agency is authorized to have five members.

Trump has nominated two Republicans to the Board, including Patrick J. Fuchs, currently a senior staff member of the Commerce Committee; and Michelle A. Schultz, associate general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. They are awaiting Senate confirmation.

By law no more than three STB members can be from the same political party.

Another Democrat or political independent is expected to be named, although no timeline for that has been set.

The second Democratic seat, last held by former Chairman Dan Elliott, who resigned 15 months before the expiration of his second term, might be filled by a new member.

However, there has been speculation in Washington that a Democrat will be nominated to succeed Miller, serving the statutory holdover year of her first term that expired Dec. 31, 2017.

Two Democrats could be nominated at the same time, one to succeed Miller and the second to fill Elliott’s vacant seat. Miller also could be renominated or the second Democratic seat might be left vacant into 2019.

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