During the Geosynthetics CASE STUDIES Conference in March in North Charleston, S.C., a few of the past Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) leaders had an opportunity to address the gathering and recall their personal experiences and achievements when they chaired the GMA executive council. This is the second installment of the history of GMA.
Beginning in 2005, GMA transitioned from an organization embroiled in specification writing to one of outreach to government agencies and Congress. GMA began an aggressive government relations program under the leadership of its executive council, chaired by John Henderson of TenCate Geosynthetics Americas. He led GMA from 2007 to 2011. During his tenure, GMA’s government relations program matured.
It started with a search for a lobbying firm that could help GMA affect government policy to help preserve and grow the geosynthetic market in the United States. GMA hired Kemp Partners and the Whitmer and Worrall lobbying firm to represent the industry in Washington, D.C. The Kemp Partners firm was led by Jack Kemp, the former football star, congressman and vice presidential candidate. The Whitmer and Worrall firm is led by Martin Whitmer, a transportation expert and former deputy chief of staff at the Department of Transportation, and Tom Worrall, legislative strategist and campaign finance expert, serving in that capacity for three presidential campaigns. For the first time, the industry had full-time representation in Washington, along with high-profile names associated with it.
GMA began Lobby Day visits to introduce the industry to members of Congress and their staffs. Success began when GMA members, as one, became the voice of the industry. Agency representatives and congressional staffers commented that finally they were hearing one voice for the industry instead of individual messages regarding products.
Henderson had this to say about the process:
I can remember our early meetings with Secretary Kemp and his team where we developed the strategy to bring the story of geosynthetics to government leaders. It was an idea that policy makers needed to know the value, both short- and long-term, of geosynthetics. Like many others in the room that day, I mistakenly thought this would be a simple and quick process. It wasn’t. It took time to build relationships and trust on Capitol Hill.
The successful efforts to get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to complete a study of geosynthetics as an innovative material in transportation applications began at that time. The government relations activities were a very attractive recruiting tool and GMA’s membership doubled by 2007 and now boasts 80 member companies.
In addition, a major accomplishment during this time was the development of the AASHTO/NTPEP audit program for manufacturers of geotextiles used by state departments of transportation (DOTs). The program also requires that the principal manufacturer’s name or numerical I.D. be printed on the fabric.
Boyd Ramsey of GSE became chair when Henderson’s terms ended. Ramsey took the lead in fashioning GMA’s position on coal ash waste, ensuring that geosynthetic liners in coal ash disposal sites were included in the two regulatory options put forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). GMA has been a strong supporter of the legislative solutions moving through Congress regarding coal ash waste.
The GMA government relations program has been very successful at the federal level, with a list of congressional champions. GMA is now leveraging that success at the state and local levels. The GMA state and local initiative began in the fall of 2012. The initial target states were Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois. GMA members and lobbyists have been meeting with state DOTs to promote the AASHTO audit and printing program. GMA is also connecting with governors’ offices and road builder associations to promote the use of geosynthetics. Meetings are also held with state EPAs to promote GMA’s position regarding coal ash waste.
Ramsey had this to say about GMA government relations: “GMA needs to speak with one voice . . . about the benefits of geosynthetics. . . . The engineering details and specific product advantages can be, and should be, argued later, after our government decides to use our materials.”
In 2015, Keith Gardner of Crown Resources became chair of the GMA executive council. At that time, Jon Curry became the managing director. Activities produced successes, and GMA staffed up by adding Jessica Kivijarvi as GMA assistant in 2017. The state and local initiative efforts expanded to 25 state visits.
GMA developed a longer list of congressional champions. In the beginning of the effort, GMA was educating Congress about the products. But after 750 congressional meetings, GMA was now active in the development of language in legislation and for the first time geosynthetics was written into law.
These important bills, passed by Congress and signed by the president, include geosynthetics language:
- Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014
- Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act
- Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act
- FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018
In 2018 Fred Chuck became chair of the GMA executive council. Chuck says:
For the past 15 years, GMA has consistently voiced an industry-unified voice in our dealings with Congress in D.C., state and local visits, and regulatory agencies around North America. These efforts have brought us to a position where instead of GMA asking for language to be included in various authorization bills, several congressional offices are now asking GMA members for language to include in appropriations for specific funding. GMA’s lobbying offers the possibility of expanding the inclusion of geosynthetics into undergraduate curriculum, providing industry-centric research funding and opening the doors to expanding the use of geosynthetics by more of the agencies.
Education and government relations will continue to be the focus of GMA’s activities. All but a few manufacturers are members of GMA. GMA developed a program for distributors, and today a third of the members are distributors of geosynthetics. Membership also includes testing firms and equipment manufacturers. GMA has strong relationships with the Geosynthetic Institute, the International Geosynthetics Society (IGS), the Fabricated Geomembrane Institute (FGI) and IGS North America (IGS-NA), and often invites those organizations to participate in GMA Lobby Day to present a united front as we educate Congress and federal agencies.