By Andrew Aho
Twenty companies and organizations participated in GMA’s annual Lobby Day April 16–17. The GMA lobbying team scheduled 25 meetings with congressional offices, including five meetings with U.S. senators, nine meetings with U.S. representatives, and the balance with senior policy and legislative staff members.
By all measures, it was our most effective and successful lobby day.
GMA reached out to the leadership of other geosynthetic organizations this year, inviting them to attend and participate in the congressional meetings. These special guests were George Koerner of the Geosynthetic Institute, Tim Stark and Andrew Mills of the Fabricated Geomembrane Institute, and Dave Suits of the North American Geosynthetics Society. Also participating was IFAI’s executive vice president, Mary Hennessy.
The two-day event kicked off with a dinner and briefing from GMA’s Washington, D.C.-based government relations team. GMA members and guests were treated to an “insider’s” view of the current political climate, including observations of the campaign activities in the U.S. House, Senate, and presidential races. In addition, the group received details on the status of the GMA government relations initiatives that were the focus of the congressional meetings.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) study is under way. GMA members briefed congressional offices regarding the status of that study which addresses the use of geosynthetics in pavements. Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) requested that the GAO to perform a study to investigate the life cycle costs and benefits of incorporating innovative materials in pavements.
The House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s staff, as well as GMA, have been providing supporting materials and additional resources as the GAO compiles the study. Once completed, this study will serve as a federal validator as GMA companies do business with states and private entities.
In addition to the GAO study, GMA members also sought support for the Report Language that references the study that has been offered by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) in the transportation appropriations bill. Many congressional offices were particularly interested in supporting this language:
The committee encourages the U.S. Department of Transportation to actively review the benefits of geosynthetics for highway and civil infrastructure applications in terms of their cost savings, longevity, and environmental benefits. The committee also encourages the Department of Transportation to thoroughly review a study currently being conducted by the Government Accountability Office to investigate the life-cycle costs of incorporating innovative materials in pavements.
Other issues important to the geosynthetics industry discussed during the congressional meetings included: geosynthetic liners in coal ash waste sites, and the environmental and engineering solutions that geosynthetic materials bring to the shale gas extraction industry.
GMA members encouraged support for the Senate version of the coal-ash bill, which is consistent with GMA’s position. The House passed H.R. 2273 last October, a bill that designates coal ash as nonhazardous material and would require geosynthetic liner systems for waste facilities just as required in municipal solid waste sites.
The coal ash bill has been attached as an amendment to the transportation appropriations bill. At the time of this writing, the House and the Senate were in a conference committee working out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. GMA is hopeful the coal ash amendment will remain in the final bill and that the president will sign it before the election.
Currently, it appears unlikely that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will promulgate rules on coal ash before the 2012 election.
The highlight of the Lobby Day events was the presentation of the Friend of GMA awards to Rep. Duncan and Rep. LoBiondo for their support of the industry and its products that bring innovation and cost savings to our nation’s infrastructure. GMA members Boyd Ramsey, John Henderson, Steve Thaxton, Ralph Bruno, and Ed Silva presented the awards to the congressmen.