Vitter's View: Increasing Competition on Our Railroads to Grow Jobs in Louisiana
This week I introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to increase competition and bring fair prices to our railroad system. The cost of industries using our rail system has a direct impact on us, the consumers. If our Louisiana companies are forced to pay bloated prices to ship vital freight to our state on the rail system, that cost is shouldered by all of us who need and purchase these goods and services.
The lack of healthy competition on our national rail system has created stifling prices for rail customers like Louisiana agriculture, utility providers and chemical manufacturers. These high costs and unreliable services have a direct impact on jobs they provide and prices for consumers.
The Surface Transportation Board is the agency in charge of regulating competition on our railroads. Government accountability reports have noted a lack of action by the Surface Transportation Board to ensure rail competition and protect rail customers from railroad market abuse.
I and a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have introduced the Railroad Competition and Service Improvement Act to address the excessive cost of shipping and unreliable service on our railroads. This legislation would ensure fair competition on our railroads and push the Surface Transportation Board to do its job to create a better, freer marketplace on our railroads.
Companies across Louisiana are impacted by these railroad challenges. One particular frustrating example is the situation the Lafayette Utilities System faces. Lafayette's electricity customers face $6 million or more annually in energy bills because the Lafayette Utilities System is paying higher rates to ship coal in this current railroad monopoly.
The Rodemacher Plant that provides electricity to the Lafayette Utilities System gets its coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, which is transported by rail for more than 1,500 miles. Currently, two railroads travel from the Basin to Alexandria, Louisiana. However, the last 19 miles of travel distance to the Rodemacher Plant only has one major railroad provider. Present law allows the current rail provider's control of the last 19 miles to push its pricing monopoly all the way back to the Powder River Basin, which in essence, turns a 19 mile monopoly into a 1,500-mile monopoly.
This monopoly forces the Lafayette Utility System to pay much higher rates than if the Rodemacher Plant had access to both railroads that serve the Powder River Basin. My bill would address bottlenecking issues like this and the lack of competition.
The Surface Transportation Board is not doing an effective job of ensuring rail customers have access to competition and protecting rail customers from railroad market abuses. Our legislation will direct the Surface Transportation Board to do its job and foster a free marketplace for our rail system, so that our energy prices and local companies are not forced to shoulder the burden of the prices created by this railroad monopoly.
Please let me know about issues of importance to you and your families by contacting me at any of my state offices or in my Washington office by mail at U.S. Senator David Vitter, U.S. Senate, 516 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510, or by phone at 202-224-4623. You can also reach me on the web at http://vitter.senate.gov.
David Vitter serves Louisiana in the United States Senate.