Posts Tagged ‘STB nominees’

STB Nomination Continues to Languish in Senate

October 9, 2021

The nomination of Karen J. Hedlund to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board continues to languish in the U.S. Senate.

Hedlund, a Democrat, was nominated by President Joseph Biden to fill the seat now held by Republican Ann D. Begeman whose term has expired and who by law must leave the Board by Dec. 31. Begeman continues to be a voting STB member with holdover status.

The nomination of Hedlund was sidetracked on Oct. 6 when Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected to Hedlund on the Senate floor.

Lee responded after presiding officer Senate Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) asked if Hedlund could be confirmed by unanimous consent of the senators present without a recorded vote.

Last August, Lee was the lone senator to vote against Hedlund when her nomination was considered by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Lee apparently has placed a “hold” on the Hedlund nomination, using a parliamentary procedure to prevent a motion from reaching a vote on the Senate floor.

Railway Age columnist Frank Wilner has reported that Hedlund has become a political pawn in an effort by the Utah congressional delegation to pressure the STB into supporting the efforts of a private-public partnership to build an 85-mile intrastate railroad in Utah.

The railroad, known as the Unita Basin Railway, would haul crude oil extracted from fracking operations to a connection with Union Pacific at Kyune, Utah.

Because it will connect with the national rail system, the UBR needs an STB certificate of public convenience and necessity.

STB Chairman Martin Oberman has expressed concern as to the financial viability of the project and the effects on the environment that it might create.

Wilner has written that some in Utah hold against Hedlund her prior professional associations with Oberman when she was practicing law in Chicago and Oberman was chairman of commuter operator Metra.

Hedlund is a former deputy administrator and chief counsel at the Federal Railroad Administration, a former chief counsel at the Federal Highway Administration, and most recently vice president and national strategy adviser at WSP USA.

Some in Utah fear that Hedlund will view the UBR project in the same way that Oberman does, although he also has said he does not currently oppose the project, but rather wants the STB to seek additional information about it.

The UBR project has already been before the STB already. In January 2021 the Board voted 2-1 that it meets the statutory standard for fast-track approval.

Oberman was the dissenting voter and dissented again on Sept. 30 when the Board voted 3-1 to deny a motion for reconsideration of its January decision. It is unclear when the STB plans to hold a final vote on awarding a certificate of public convenience and necessity to the UBR project.

Senate Confirms 2 STB Nominees

November 20, 2020

The U.S. Senate this week confirmed the appointments of Robert Primus and Michelle Schultz to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which brings the agency to its full authorized number of members.

The fourth and fifth members of the STB are expected to assume their posts shortly.

The STB is authorized by the 2015 Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act to have five members.

Current STB Chairman Ann Begeman’s term expires on Dec. 31 but by law she may remain in holdover status for up to 12 months.

However, she must leave the board if the president appoints and the Senate confirms her successor during 2021.

Begeman is in her second term on the STB and is seen by some Washington observers as unlikely to be renamed to the board.

Primus, a Democrat, was named to replace Democrat Deb Miller for a seat whose term expires Dec. 31, 2022.

Schultz, a Republican, will fill one of two new seats created by the 2015 law that had yet to be filled. She will serve a five-year term.

The term of Republican STB member Patrick Fuchs expires on Jan. 17, 2024 while the term of  Democrat Martin Oberman expires on Dec. 31, 2023.

The STB is expected next year to take action on a number of moves that have become bogged down due to the board being at less than full membership.

These include the method by which revenue adequacy is determined, including whether historical or replacement costs are to be used in computing a railroad’s investment base, and the method for estimating the equity portion of the railroad industry’s cost of capital.  

Also on the docket are matter of whether and how revenue-adequate railroads should be constrained in raising rates and how to simplify and make less costly the determination of reasonable rates where railroads are market-dominant.

Railway Age reported that this issue might be solved through agreement with the railroads that would avoid a post-decision judicial challenge.

The Association of American Railroads is considering proposing some manner of non-precedent-setting arbitration to decide all but major rate cases.

Other matters up for discussion and resolution include setting criteria for, and means to, providing competitive access at sole-served rail facilities; whether to eliminate paper barriers in line sale and line lease agreements that restrict short line railroads from interchanging traffic with competitors of the Class I railroad that sold or leased them the trackage; an appropriate formula for recovery of increased fuel costs; and whether previous regulatory exemptions should be withdrawn, given changed circumstances.”

Primus Nominated for STB Seat

July 23, 2020

Robert Primus had been nominated by the Trump administration to fill a Democratic seat on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The 49-year-old career Democratic congressional staffer is expected to be paired on the Senate floor with Republican nominee Michelle A. Schultz, whose nomination has been stalled for three years pending the naming of a Democrat to fill one of the two vacant seats on the five-member board.

Current STB members are Republican Chairman Ann D. Begeman, Republican Patrick J. Fuchs and Democrat Martin J. Oberman.

The Senate Commerce Committee will consider Primus in a hearing that observers do not expect to be controversial.

Schultz was earlier recommended by the committee for confirmation.

Begeman, who controls the STB’s docket, is expected to hold any controversial cases until the two new members are seated.

However, Begeman’s term expires on Dec. 31 although she can remain in the post for another year pending confirmation of a successor.

2 Seats on STB Likely to be Filled in Early 2020

September 20, 2019

Two open seats on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could be filled by early 2020, Railway Age reported this week.

The Trump administration is reported to be considering naming Robert Primus as a Democratic nominee to go with Republican Michelle A. Schultz.

Schultz was nominated two years ago but her confirmation by the Senate has been stalled until a Democrat was named to fill a seat that by law must go to a member of that party.

Primus, 49, is a career congressional staffer who was recommended by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-New York).

If Primus and Schultz are nominated and confirmed, they would join current board members Republicans Ann D. Begeman and Patrick J. Fuchs, and Democrat Martin J. Oberman.

The STB regulates railroads transporting freight in interstate commerce.

Railway Age said the confirmation process for Primus and Schultz is unlikely to be completed before December.

Under current law the maximum number of STB members is five.

The seat that Primus would hold has an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2022. Schultz would fill a seat that would expire five years after her confirmation date.

Although STB members are nominated by party, the agency is independent of executive branch control.

The party controlling the White House is allowed by law to hold three of the five seats.

If nominated and confirmed, Primus would become the fifth African-American to serve among 114 regulators confirmed by the Senate to serve on the STB or its predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Primus does not have a railroad or shipping industry but served on the staffs of two legislators well-known to the railroad community, the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) and former Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Massachusetts).

He earned an undergraduate degree in marketing from Virginia’s Hampton University, and participated in the Senior Managers in Government program at Harvard.

His grandfather and great-grandfather were employed by the Southern Railway in North Carolina.

Schultz, 44, initially was nominated 2017 and again in January 2019.

The Senate Commerce Committee endorsed her nomination in July pending the naming of a Democrat to serve on the Board.

She is deputy general counsel for commuter railroad Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Earlier in her career, Schultz was an associate with the Philadelphia-based law firm of White and Williams, dealing with bankruptcy and commercial litigation, and a law clerk with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

She has an undergraduate degree in English from Penn State University, a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and a law degree from Widener University.

Railway Age said it has learned that shipper and railroad interests have told the Senate and White House that they have “no objections” to a Primus nomination.

STB Nominees Seek to Be Neutral at Hearing

April 12, 2018

The two nominees for seats on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee this week and sought to deflect pointed questions they were asked about STB policies.

Patrick J. Fuchs, a former Commerce Committee staff member, and Michelle A. Schultz, deputy general counsel for the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, are Republicans who recently were nominated to STB seats by the Trump administration .

Among the questions was one by Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) about Amtrak’s statutory right of preference over freight traffic.

“The law says Amtrak has preference over freight transportation using a rail line. You talked about statutory directives. Do you agree [preference] is a statutory directive?” Wicker asked. “In reality freight railroads have consistently denied such preference to Amtrak.”

Noting that a federal appellate court has struck down one effort to regulate on-time performance, Fuchs said, “Reasonable terms and conditions are case-specific, dependent on a particular route. “I would be hesitant to make a sweeping statement. I would evaluate any case that came before the board from a fair and open perspective.”

Both nominees in their prepared statements and in answers to questions sought to paint themselves as neutral and impartial.

“I believe both in the importance of the board’s responsibilities and in the power of market forces to achieve efficiencies and drive innovation and investment,” Fuchs said in his statement.

For her part, Shultz said that “because freight rail and intercity passenger rail serve an integral role in enhancing mobility within the United States, it is incumbent upon the Board to approach matters . . . in an impartial manner within the bounds of its jurisdiction and the law.”