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Senate Judiciary Committee passes Kohl's railroad antitrust bill


By a 14-to-1 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday passed the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2011 (S. 49), which proposes to repeal railroads’ antitrust exemptions.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) introduced the bill Jan. 25 “in response to concerns that freight railroads are abusing their dominant market power and raising rates for those who rely on them to ship dozens of vital commodities, including coal and agricultural products,” said Kohl — chairman of the Senate Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights subcommittee — in a statement issued yesterday. The bill is opposed by the freight-rail industry; balanced regulation is necessary to help ensure freight rail can continue to meet the nation’s transportation needs, industry constituents believe.

Current antitrust law protects “a wide range of railroad industry conduct” from antitrust scrutiny, said Kohl. Railroad mergers and acquisitions are exempt from antitrust law and are reviewed by the Surface Transportation Board, and railroads that engage in collective ratemaking also are exempt, according to Kohl. The bill would eliminate the exemptions and enable the federal government, state attorneys general and private parties to file suit to "enjoin anti-competitive mergers and acquisitions," he said.

“[S. 49] will restore the review of these mergers to the agency where they belong, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, [and] eliminate the antitrust exemption for railroad collective rate making,” said Kohl, adding that the bill will ensure that “railroads play by the same rules as all businesses in our economy.”

S. 49 is is co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee — Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.). A previous Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act was passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2009 and was pending on the Senate calendar for debate when Congress adjourned last year, said Kohl.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/4/2011