Lobby Day 2022 took place on November 16, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Leading up to this year’s visit the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) continued efforts to maintain its influence with federal and state governments. With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), conversations with congressional leaders were a priority to ensure geosynthetic inclusion in the projects that will be funded, as well as to discuss the Build America, Buy America (BABA) provisions of the BIL 180-day hold for clarity and definition on the Buy America clauses.
“This year’s Fall Lobby Day was particularly important for several reasons,” says Bryan Gee, director of education and training for Tensar International Corp. and chair of the GMA executive council. “The most significant, and the topic of the majority of conversations over the two days, is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in November 2021. In fact, our executive council meeting was held on the one-year anniversary of the BIL being signed into law. The BIL has enormous potential to positively impact the geosynthetics industry because of the large increase in infrastructure funding and the emphasis on sustainability and resilience. At the same time, implementation of the law has seen some big challenges because many of the programs and requirements are new, and Congress did not immediately appropriate funding for all of the authorized programs.
“GMA’s focus during Lobby Day and over the past year has been on gathering information and providing input to the implementing agencies to both keep our members informed and support successful implementation,” Gee continued. “While we are not in a position as an industry association to dictate federal policy, we have been very successful in gaining a seat at the table for important discussions and improving the understanding of the benefits of geosynthetics, and Fall Lobby Day was another positive contribution.”
This year meetings were scheduled with the offices of Senators Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Tom Carper, D-Del.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.; Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va.; Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.; and Tim Scott, R-S.C.; and Representatives Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.; Andrew Clyde, R-Ga.; Lois Frankel, D-Fla.; Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.; Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.; David Rouzer, R-N.C.; Austin Scott, R-Ga.; and Bruce Westerman, R- Ark.
In attendance from the geosynthetics industry were representatives from constituent companies Berry Global (TYPAR Geosynthetics), Dalco Nonwovens LLC, E Squared Technical Textiles, Hanes Geo Components, HUESKER Inc., Industrial Fabrics Inc., Solmax, Tensar (CMC), Western Green and Willacoochee Industrial Fabrics Inc. (WINFAB USA).
This year’s special guest speaker at the Lobby Day reception dinner was LaToya Johnson, team leader, Pavement Design and Performance, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
Her discussion centered on FHWA’s sustainability and resilience programs and how manufacturers of materials like geosynthetics can help achieve key objectives. Johnson discussed the FHWA Sustainable Pavements Program which advances the knowledge and practice of designing, constructing and maintaining more sustainable pavements through stakeholder engagement, education, and development of guidance and tools. A key item in her presentation on sustainable pavements and materials was the importance of ensuring that pavements are designed, constructed, preserved, and maintained to accommodate current and predicted traffic needs as well as consider economic, environmental and social impacts and needs throughout the pavement’s life cycle. “To be sustainable, pavements must meet performance requirements and consider environmental, economic and social impacts,” Johnson said. “If engineering performance is not being achieved, it can’t be sustainable.”
Johnson said that sustainable pavements achieve the engineering goals and performance; preserve and ideally restore surrounding ecosystems; use financial, human and environmental resources wisely; and meet basic human needs such as health, safety, equity, employment, comfort and happiness. She emphasized the importance of metrics instead of what “feels good” by incorporating waste materials, recycling, increasing durability and using local materials. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure,” she stressed. “The way to determine if it is really clean and sustainable is to have metrics.”
One of the opportunities to improve these methodologies, Johnson explained, is with quantification methods and benchmarking tools such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and environmental product declarations (EPD). LCA is a method to quantify environmental impacts of products and processes over the life cycle. Using guidance from ISO and European Standards, an LCA is conducted for the product, process or system. An EPD is an LCA-based, transparent and verified report of environmental impacts of a product. Similar to nutrition labels for food products, EPDs communicate critical environmental information on pavement materials to the customer.
Johnson also touched on the Buy Clean policy at the federal level and the executive order on federal sustainability, EO 14057: Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability. The White House Buy Clean announcement, aligned with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 funding, leverages federal procurement to catalyze markets for low-carbon construction materials to upgrade U.S. transportation, buildings and energy infrastructure.
The Buy Clean Task Force provides recommendations on policies and procedures to expand consideration of embodied emissions and pollutants of construction materials in federal procurement and federally funded projects. One of the goals of this policy is for net-zero emission from federal procurement including a Buy Clean policy to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions.
“The opportunity to meet with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) while in Washington and to hear Latoya Johnson – FHWA, speak at our dinner could not have been timed better,” said Daniel Selander, sales and technical support for WINFAB and GMA vice chair. “Industry and agencies alike are seeking to better understand how to support the BIL requirements and keep America’s infrastructure strong. Understanding how USDOT, FHWA and the FAA are moving forward with this new law is critical to planning for the future. It was a great time to be in D.C. and hear this information first hand.”
One of the highpoints of Lobby Day 2022 was the presentation of the GMA Leader of the Year Award to Peter DeFazio, U.S. representative for Oregon’s 4th congressional district since 1987. “It is an honor to receive the Geosynthetic Materials Association’s Leader of the Year Award in recognition of my commitment to fostering innovation in materials and engineering techniques necessary to build the infrastructure of the future,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair DeFazio said. “Thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, communities are rebuilding, boosting their local economies, creating jobs, and making our nation stronger and more competitive for generations to come. It is through the ingenuity and dedication of those in this field that we will be able to tackle today’s toughest building challenges, including reducing our environmental impact, increasing sustainability and durability, and improving safety.”
Asked about his goals and accomplishments through the years—with transportation and infrastructure in particular—DeFazio added, “Fighting to improve people’s lives has been my North Star during my 36-year career in Congress, whether that has meant protecting Social Security or fighting for infrastructure investments. I have spent my entire career on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has allowed me to pass laws that protect American workers, invest in our infrastructure, and preserve our environment.
“As chair, it was an extraordinary privilege to have shaped the historic infrastructure investment law, which provides $550 billion in new investment to modernize our roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports, airports, broadband, and drinking water and wastewater,” DeFazio continued. “I fought for and passed policies that challenge the status quo of what is possible for our nation’s transportation systems to boost our economy, create opportunities, improve equity, and strengthen safety.”
“Congressman DeFazio has been a leader in Congress on infrastructure for 36 years,” Gee added. “As I said when I presented the award, the plaque could just as easily have said ‘Leader of the Last 36 Years’ when it comes to his support for infrastructure. He was instrumental in some of GMA’s most significant legislative achievements, including the language supporting the use of geosynthetics which was included in the F-A-S-T- (Fixing American’s Surface Transportation) Act. Congressman DeFazio is retiring at the end of this term, and we wanted to acknowledge his contributions while we have the chance. At the same time, he is likely to remain an important voice on issues important to GMA. It was an honor to present him the award.”