OPINION

Baldwin reintroduces legislation to help businesses move Made In Wisconsin goods to market

Office of US Senator Tammy Baldwin
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today reintroduced her legislation to address the challenges faced by businesses in Wisconsin and across the country when shipping by rail. The Rail Shipper Fairness Act aims to reduce costs and improve service problems faced by a broad coalition of Wisconsin rail shippers, including farmers, manufacturers and utilities.

“Now more than ever, our Wisconsin businesses need a quality and responsive railroad system to effectively get their goods to market,” said Senator Baldwin. “In order to continue building a strong Made in Wisconsin economy that is fair to farmers, manufacturers, and consumers, we need to give these shippers a seat at the table. My Rail Shipper Fairness Act will address the challenges faced by local businesses and help drive our Wisconsin economy forward.”

Businesses and consumers throughout Wisconsin have endured years of subpar rail service. Grain elevators across the Midwest are full due to farmers being left without means to move their goods to market. Wisconsin’s paper industry routinely faces high rates and poor service on the railroads. Several Wisconsin power plants have had to reduce production or shutdown altogether because they can’t get fuel by rail. These shutdowns pass higher rates on to their consumers with electricity costs set to reach their highest levels since 1999. These additional costs add up to make Made In Wisconsin products less competitive internationally.

The Rail Shipper Fairness Act seeks to increase competition, reform rate case regulations and end unreasonable practices. The legislation will require railroads to be more responsive to their customers by honoring their contractual obligations. The legislation includes provisions to implement competitive switching, which Senator Baldwin has long advocated for to the Surface Transportation Board (STB). Additionally, the legislation prohibits railroads from charging customers for fuel in a way that does not correlate with actual fuel costs.

The Rail Shipper Fairness Act is supported by the Freight Rail Customer Alliance (FRCA), National Industrial Transportation League, American Forest and Paper Association, Private Railcar Food and Beverage Association, International Warehouse Logistics Association, and American Chemistry Council.

“The Freight Rail Customer Alliance thanks Senator Baldwin for her continued leadership in seeking reforms to further enhance the efficiency and transparency of the Surface Transportation Board to benefit all stakeholders – including shippers and rail carriers, and the communities we both serve,” said Shelley Sahling-Zart, Freight Rail Customer Alliance President. “The Rail Shipper Fairness Act of 2020 builds upon the reforms to the Surface Transportation Board made by Congress when it reauthorized the STB in 2015. The bill reinforces current proceedings before the Board such as implementing recommendations put forth by the STB’s Rate Review Task Force and competitive switching.  Another key provision of this bill calls upon the General Accountability Office to study and report to Congress on the industry-wide impacts of Precision Scheduling Railroading.”                                                               

“Freight rail serves as a vital link between chemical manufacturers and just about every segment of the U.S. economy, from farms to factories,” said Chris Jahn, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council. “Senator Baldwin’s legislation contains many smart regulatory reforms that would improve access to affordable and reliable rail service, which would help large and small businesses across the country. The bill promotes good governance by harnessing the power of free market forces and streamlining overly bureaucratic procedures at the Surface Transportation Board to resolve freight rail issues quickly and sensibly.”