Market Matters Blog

Surface Transportation Board Seats New Chair

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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The Surface Transportation Board is an independent federal agency that is charged with the economic regulation of various modes of surface transportation, primarily freight rail. The agency has jurisdiction over railroad rate, practice, service issues and rail restructuring transactions, including mergers, line sales, line construction and line abandonments among other transportation issues. (Photo by Kelly Moshier)

Former Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Ann Begeman served as the STB chairman and acting chairman between January 2017 and January 2021, and as vice chairman during 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Her second five-year term expired on Dec. 31, 2020, and by statute, she may remain at the STB up to one additional year. That left the position open until Jan. 21 when President Joe Biden designated Martin J. Oberman as the new Chairman of the Surface Transportation Board. Oberman was sworn in as a member of the Board on Jan. 22, 2019. He is serving in his first, five-year term following his confirmation by the United States Senate on Jan. 2, 2019; his current term expires Dec. 31, 2023.

Oberman thanked Begeman for her leadership through major administrative changes, including redesign of the agency's office space and, most recently, her successful management of the board's transition to full-time virtual work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Oberman said, "Ann not only presided over the addition of Patrick Fuchs and myself to the board but now has had the opportunity to preside over the recent addition of Robert Primus and Michelle Schultz, bringing the board to its full complement of five members for the first time. Throughout, Ann has shown an endless dedication to this agency and its employees, and I know I speak for the entire STB community as we acknowledge and appreciate Ann for her past and continuing service."

Various trade groups noted their approval of Oberman's appointment. In a press release sent to DTN, American Chemistry Council's President and CEO Chris Jahn said, "We thank President Biden for acting quickly to fill this important leadership position and we welcome Martin Oberman to his role as the new Chair of the STB. He will bring several years of experience to the job, including his tenure as Vice Chair, as well as his many years of transportation experience prior to serving on the STB.

"Chairman Oberman will also benefit from the recent addition of two highly qualified members, Mr. Primus and Ms. Schultz, who were added to the STB earlier this year. Modernizing our nation's freight rail policies is critical to helping build back our economy and grow U.S. manufacturing. We look forward to working with Chairman Oberman and the other members of the STB to adopt much-needed reforms that will ensure large and small businesses have access to affordable and reliable service."

Jahn added, "We would also like to thank outgoing Chair Ann Begeman for her leadership on tackling service issues and excessive charges related to the adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading."

Association of American Railroads (AAR) president and CEO Ian Jefferies issued a statement on the AAR website saying, "AAR congratulates Marty Oberman on his appointment to lead the STB as the agency continues its mission of facilitating a fluid, reliable rail network. Chairman Oberman's knowledge of rail operations and experience working with many diverse stakeholders will serve him well as he leads the STB's consideration of many important issues. With numerous pending proposals before the STB, railroads urge the members to ground deliberations in sound economic principles and reject measures that would undermine the industry's ability to invest in and for the future. Freight railroads look forward to continued engagement with the new chairman about how the industry can continue to deliver for rail customers and the American public."

The National Grain and Feed Association, along with 23 National Associations, 20 State and Regional Agribusiness Associations affiliated with NGFA and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, affiliated with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), sent a letter to President Biden on Jan. 19, encouraging him to designate Oberman to lead the STB.

The NGFA on behalf of the other groups also noted in the letter that, "Oberman is knowledgeable and well-versed on the status and background of several pending rulemakings underway at the STB, including rail-rate reform and revenue adequacy of rail carriers. Such leadership also is essential as the STB continues to implement the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015, which will help farmers, agribusinesses and manufacturers be more competitive in the global marketplace, as well as to maximize employment opportunities and safe working conditions for rail workers."

The letter said that, "During the past few years, the STB has responded to these developments by engaging in a much more robust and long-overdue review of freight rail policy issues. In particular, the agency has developed momentum over the last three years in attempting to create a more streamlined method for freight rail customers to challenge unreasonable rates and to develop guidelines to address egregious and non-reciprocal demurrage and accessorial charges imposed by carriers."

The letter also noted that, "The current STB is striving to take a more prudent regulatory approach that balances the need of rail carriers to earn sufficient revenues to be profitable and invest in their infrastructure with the commensurate need of rail customers to receive more competitive, reliable, predictable and cost-effective service."

Here is a link to STB Unfinished Regulatory Proceedings, Rate Case Review Metrics and Formal and Informal Service Complaints.…

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