The Courts and Competition Policies Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee approved the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009 (H.R. 233) by voice vote on Thursday.
The bill would effectively remove a current antitrust exemption that enables railroads to gain clearance for mergers from the Surface Transportation Board rather than seeking the approval of the Department of Justice. Before approval, the Subcommittee adopted an amendment that would ensure the bill’s provisions would not be applied retroactively to previously-approved transactions.
The bill is the House counterpart to a Senate version, S. 146, authored by Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). Kohl and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) agreed in June to work toward comprehensive rail reform legislation, including the antitrust provisions.
Also, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing Wednesday to consider a number of nominations, including that of Daniel Elliott III as chairman of the STB. During the hearing, Elliott, an associate general counsel of the United Transportation Union since 1993, noted the relative financial strength of rail companies compared to past decades, and, upon pressing by Rockefeller, alluded that the 1980 Staggers Act is outdated. He also indicated that he would be “proactive” in addressing shipper concerns. Elliott is expected to receive full Senate confirmation as early as next week before the Senate adjourns for August recess.