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Will the Surface Transportation Board add a new member?

Although the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has voted in favor of the nomination of an additional board member to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), whether and when she will be installed remains to be seen.

The committee unanimously approved by voice vote the nomination of Michelle Schultz to the board during a July 10 executive session. The next step is for the full Senate to vote on her nomination, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) will decide when her nomination will go before the Senate for a vote.

However, when the Senate will vote to confirm her nomination is uncertain because regulatory agencies tend to pair nominees from both the Republican and Democratic parties to go through the process together. The STB has two open seats that it can fill, but Schultz’s nomination was stalled in April 2018 because there wasn’t a Democratic nominee to pair with her, a source said. 

Still, having another board member would benefit the Board, as well as the broader industry, as the STB prepares to tackle issues such as demurrage and accessorial charges, rate review policies such as revenue adequacy, and service-oriented issues such as on-time performance, sources said.

“I think the entire industry, and the STB itself, would be best served by having a full-five member Board. That’s what Congress intended,” said transportation attorney Bill Mullins. 

Schultz was initially nominated to the Board in March 2018, but the full Senate never voted on her nomination. She has served as deputy general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, a large public transportation agency popularly known as SEPTA.

“The Board currently has on its docket pending rulemakings of significant importance to the various stakeholders in the railroad industry” such as competitive switching, revenue adequacy and commodity exemptions, Schultz said in an April 2018 questionaire given by the Senate Commerce Committee to Board nominees.

She continued, “While I am not in a position to weigh on the merits, I believe the stakeholders of the industry need finality on these proceedings. I look forward to working with the STB staff and stakeholders on these matters to help bring them to a conclusion.”

Mullins said Schultz’s public sector experience could benefit the Board as it rules on key issues.

“I think she understands how to balance the public good and the private good. My hope is that she can come to fully understand how capital-intensive the freight rail industry is and how critical it is for government to not overreact to market force changes,” Mullins said. 

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.