Exempt from antitrust laws, railroads set exorbitant rates

In these challenging economic times, we hear a lot about falling stock prices, shrinking retirement funds and plunging home values. What we don’t hear about are actions taken by freight railroads that result in a hidden tax on U.S. consumers, causing higher prices for everything from the electricity lighting their homes to the food on their dinner table.

Due to industry consolidation since 1980, only four major Class 1 railroads carry 90 percent of the nation’s freight traffic. These railroads currently enjoy exemptions from antitrust law, which allows them to charge exorbitant fees, often accompanied by unreliable service. These exemptions also protect a wide range of railroad industry conduct from scrutiny by antitrust enforcers.

That is why I have introduced the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act (H.R. 233, with S. 146 introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.), which would result in placing the rail industry under the same antitrust laws that apply to other industries such as telecommunications, trucking and energy. Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee supported the legislation by a vote of 14-0.

Many industries are served by only one railroad. These “captive shippers,” which account for 44 percent of all freight rail traffic, have faced constantly rising rail rates. The protections normally provided by antitrust law, available to customers in nearly every other industry, are unavailable to captive shippers.

As an example, in my state, Dairyland Power in La Crosse serves the electricity needs of more than 575,000 people. In 2005, Dairyland experienced a 13 percent shortfall of scheduled coal shipments, yet the electricity cooperative was hit with a 93 percent rate increase — resulting in about $35 million in increased costs passed along to its customers.

In Florida, the railroad’s recent doubling of its charges to ship coal will increase consumers’ electricity bills there by $100 million in 2009.

That’s why captive shippers from all over the nation — including farmers, local utilities and manufacturers — are coming to Washington this week to meet with members of Congress to ensure we all understand the devastating consequences the current system of freight rail causes.

The American Bar Association’s committee on antitrust law recently endorsed legislation to end the railroads’ exemption. In addition, 21 state attorneys general have asked Congress to remove the railroad antitrust exemption, citing price-gouging concerns.

With our economy already challenging consumers and businesses at every turn, the last thing our farmers, manufacturers and local utility companies need is to be forced into paying exorbitant rates because of the railroads’ uncontrolled pricing power. It’s time for Congress to apply our antitrust laws more equitably to protect consumers throughout the nation.


Immigration raids’ merit

From Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member, House Judiciary Committee

The Hill’s March 18 article “Study shows wages rose after immigration raids” highlights the fact that immigration enforcement protects jobs for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

A Rasmussen poll of likely voters released this week found that 67 percent support the government conducting enforcement actions to identify and deport illegal immigrants. A majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents all agreed.

So it is puzzling that Democrats attack Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for enforcing the law.

As the story indicates, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called worksite arrests and deportation of illegal workers “un-American.” That’s powerful — “un-American.”  And it’s quite a spectacle to have the Speaker call the men and women of law enforcement “un-American.”

We should praise them, not insult them, for enforcing our immigration laws.

Twelve million Americans are out of work. Seven million illegal workers hold jobs that should go to citizens and legal immigrant workers. The data demonstrate that American people know what’s really “un-American.”


Listen to Cheney

From Mary Spreiter

(Regarding article “Go back into hiding, GOP begs Dick Cheney — please,” March 24.) It seems there are always some griping Republicans, and this article shows the intolerance of the GOP members who cannot see beyond their petty intolerance. Cheney needs to say what is being said, and the spineless Republicans need to back off their inability to focus on leadership. The Republicans who need to keep quiet are those who gripe. They have certainly been a failure.

Cheney is needed. He needs to be heard. The Republican leadership has not shown any ability to lead the party in the direction it needs to go.

Tulsa, Okla.

Destroy the drug cartels

From Howard J. Wooldridge, member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

(Regarding article “Pelosi urges Obama to step up aid to battle Mexican drug cartels,” March 19.) At the end of a recent hearing regarding Mexican drug cartels, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the four witnesses what they thought of ending the drug war by legalizing drugs. Bravo! A responsible member finally threw out for examination the simplest, cheapest and most sure-fire method known to destroy the Mexican drug cartels.

Frederick, Md.