The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) has submitted a statement to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) commending and “fully supporting” the agency’s proposal to reduce maximum filing fees assessed against rail shippers bringing a case for resolution before the body.
The STB in February proposed to reduce its maximum filing fees to $350 — the same fee level charged for bringing complaints before a federal district court. The NGFA noted that several current STB filing fees — such as those applying to complaints associated with alleged unreasonable freight rates and competitive access issues — already are at or less than $350. But the maximum charge for bringing an unreasonable practice complaint can reach $20,600.
“The large disparity in the fee structure between the relatively low fees for most complaints and the petition for declaratory orders (compared to) the existing $20,600 fee for all other formal complaints represents, as the (STB) states, ‘a gap that is not good public policy’…, and likely has a chilling effect on shippers and other entities seeking to bring a complaint to the (agency),” the NGFA said. The NGFA also referenced the fact that unresolved informal complaints brought before the STB’s Rail Consumer and Public Assistance service have not resulted in the filing of formal complaints, which may be attributable in part to the cost of bringing such cases.
Established in 1896, the NGFA is a U.S.-based nonprofit trade association that consists of more than 1,000 grain, feed, processing and grain-related companies comprising more than 7,000 facilities that handle more than 70 percent of U.S. grains and oilseeds. Affiliated with the NGFA are 26 state and regional grain and feed trade associations. The NGFA also has strategic alliances with the North American Export Grain Association and Pet Food Institute.
The NGFA pointed to the reasonable, cost–effective fees charged as part of its more-than-10-year-old Rail Arbitration System, which provides a mechanism to resolve certain types of disputes between rail carriers and rail users, and widely is viewed by both segments as successful and workable.
“Most (NGFA rail arbitration) cases are settled between the parties shortly after the claim is filed, and countless other potential claims reportedly are settled without the need for a formal complaint because the parties understand that an accessible adjudicatory process is available,” the NGFA said. “Based upon its own experience, the NGFA believes that simply having access to a cost-effective process (at the STB) will itself enhance the resolution of disputes.”
The NGFA’s membership encompasses all sectors of the industry, including country, terminal and export elevators; feed and feed ingredient manufacturers; biofuels companies; cash grain and feed merchants; end users of grain and grain products, including processors, flour millers, and livestock and poultry integrators; commodity futures brokers and commission merchants; and allied industries. Canadian and Mexican firms also are NGFA members, and use its Trade Rules and Arbitration System by specific reference in their contracts.