The conference process for divergent House- and Senate-passed surface transportation bills began this week with a public hearing on Tuesday that was dominated by opening statements and calls for passage of a long-term bill. The 47-member conference committee is charged with bridging the gap between the House’s five-year, $260 billion extension and the Senate’s two-year, $109 billion bill.
Current surface transportation law expires on June 30. The law has been extended a number of times since 2009, when the last long-term transportation measure expired.
The bills being conferenced affect construction projects around the country and authorize the federal gas tax that pays for them. Though considered a surface transportation measure, the bill also includes provisions related to railways and waterways.
The Senate version of the legislation, S. 1813, has a number of provisions important to rail customers, including establishing a timeline for rate cases taken to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), requiring the STB to issue quarterly reports of complaints received and changing the maximum relief possible for shippers in “simplified” rate procedures.
Also included in the final Senate bill were amendments addressing exemptions from commercial trucking requirements for agriculture-related intrastate commerce and clarifying the agriculture hours-of-service exemption.
This week, NAWG signed on to two letters supporting rail and maritime provisions under consideration.
One letter, sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the relevant committees in both chambers, urged the conference committee to include the freight rail subtitle from the Senate’s version of the bill in the final compromise package.
NAWG and the 11 other signatories said the rail provisions were “modest steps that we believe would contribute to a better balance between shipper and carrier interests in rail policy deliberations at the Surface Transportation Board (STB), and make the agency more accountable, transparent and effective.”
A second letter, also with a dozen signatures, urged inclusion of the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act, or H.R. 104. This bill would ensure that monies collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are actually used for operations and maintenance of U.S. ports, waterways and harbors. It was included in the House-passed surface transportation measure.
Both letters sent this week are available in full online at www.wheatworld.org/transportation under “Statements and Testimony.”
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