When Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) retires at the end of this year rail shippers will lose a strong defender.
During the Sept. 10 Commerce Committee hearing probing rail service failures, he recalled that he had been fighting the railroads since “I first heard about high rates and poor service 30 years ago from West Virginia coal shippers.”
When dealing with Ed Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads, his demeanor and tone of voice remained polite and even, but his words were etched in acid.
After calling AAR “the most powerful, under-the-radar lobbying group in Washington” early in the hearing, near its end Rockefeller told Hamberger, “I think the world is gradually going to shift against thinking like yours, and I think when that happens you will be surprised and you will be unready, and we’ll have a different situation.”
He also upbraided the AAR president: “You can’t blame everything on the winter. You just can’t do that. Sorry. I know you have the money. I don’t want to hear about a record amount being invested.”
After Hamberger promised to secure a flagstop in rural Mississippi for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) in a verbal exchange the two had during the hearing, Rockefeller cited it as an example of how the railroads have “paid off” policymakers over the years by granting them small concessions.
Noting that Class I railroads have been financially strong for years, Rockefeller also said, “It is far past time that we continue pandering to the freight railroads, and start moving toward a more balanced system that also allows businesses and people who use the rail network to prosper.”
Elected to the Senate in 1984, Rockefeller served as West Virginia’s governor, Secretary of State and member of the House of Delegates. He also was president of West Virginia Wesleyan College.