By |  April 1, 2013

Gus Edwards steadily climbed the ranks over 16 years between the National Stone Association (NSA) and the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), starting as NSA’s vice president of public affairs upon joining in 1997 and continuing in roles as vice president for communications and community relations, and executive vice president after NSA and the National Aggregates Association merged in 2000.

Now, more than four months into his tenure as NSSGA president and CEO, Edwards recently found time to reflect on alternatives to funding surface transportation, the association’s 10-year-old alliance with MSHA and his thoughts on creating a separate office for aggregates within MSHA.

P&Q: What more could NSSGA do to rally the public behind surface transportation funding?

GE: NSSGA is diligently working with our coalition partners to increase widespread support for surface transportation. Our two Rally for Roads, of which NSSGA was a prime sponsor, are an example of what we should encourage at the local level. Almost every state has a transportation coalition that can hold rallies. Speakers should be made available to local civic and community organizations.  Facility tours for elected officials go a long way to showing what our businesses do and why transportation is important.

P&Q: What are your thoughts on exploring other means of funding surface transportation besides a federal program?

GE: The constitution spells out the federal role in transportation. The alternative is a patchwork of roads and highways, which would undermine our economy, damage our global competitiveness and national security, and fail to serve the needs of the American public that treasures its freedom of mobility.

NSSGA is open to all possible alternatives designed to increase investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure. The states are the laboratories for the federal government and we need to follow closely what is happening in states such as Indiana and Virginia.

There have been suggestions to impose a fee on gas at the wholesale level – a per barrel fee.  Or, another suggestion is making the gas tax a sales tax per gallon of gas.

Of course, in the short-term, increasing the gas user fee is the quickest and most efficient method of filling the funding gap.  Long-term, two federal commissions recommended converting to a vehicle-miles-traveled tax. Pilot projects testing such a fee are underway in several states. It would seem privacy concerns could be resolved.

There all sorts of other recommendations, and we are open.  In the end, however, to be successful the coalition will have to coalesce around a solution that they can advocate to members of Congress.

P&Q: In his February 2013 law column, Pit & Quarry‘s Mike Heenan identified and discussed a major disconnect between the causes of eight 2011 deaths at stone, sand and gravel operations and the items MSHA most frequently cites. According to Heenan, the most frequently cited items are not conditions that were the immediate causes of 2011 deaths. Considering there is a disconnect, what role, if any, can NSSGA play in rectifying this wrong and encouraging MSHA to seriously rework its inspector program?

GE: NSSGA will continue to encourage MSHA to focus its resources on areas of greatest risk. While the agency sticks to the assertion that it must enforce the 1977 Mine Act, as written, the fact is that more could be done.  We urge [Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe] Main to continue the effort to boost inspector consistency.

Q: Which safety and health items do you anticipate being focal points this year for NSSGA and MSHA, which renewed a 10-year-old alliance with each other in December?

GE: It is critical to remember that the alliance is limited to work strictly in the areas of education and training.  We are unable to work through the alliance on enforcement issues. With regard to education and training, we will continue to analyze injury data that leads to production of safety alerts, on such causes of injuries as powered haulage, machinery, for example, that are critical to many of our operators’ safety and health meetings, toolbox training talks and other forms of instruction.

Also, we will continue to produce Rip & Shares safety handouts on critical hazards in our magazine. The work of our alliance’s technical task force will continue to seek clarification from MSHA, with the goal of making compliance less burdensome so that the chances for success in managing for safety and health are enhanced.

One example of success in this area was clarification received in 2012 in response to our request that the standard concerning protecting miners from falls while they are on working platforms fewer than six feet off the ground. Our success in this area enables operators, in turn, to direct resources to areas of greatest risk – which is where our focus should be.

P&Q: Another solution some producers and industry advocates would like to see develop is a legislative one that better separates aggregates from coal and other hard rock mining. What is your stance on how the aggregates industry is currently defined (i.e., metal/nonmetal mining), and what is the possibility of a separation becoming a reality? Is it something you would consider pursuing?

GE: The current political environment and limited government resources are not conducive to a legislative division of aggregates and coal.  That said, NSSGA has renewed its effort to educate the 113th Congress on the differences between aggregates and coal. We emphasize that “one size does not fit all” when mine safety legislation is drafted.

NSSGA has spoken to MSHA and legislators about creating a separate office for aggregates within MSHA since it is the largest mining sector by product volume, but there has been no action and we have received little encouragement. We support creation of such an office and will continue to look for opportunities to advance this idea.

Read Part 1 of 2 of Pit & Quarry’s interview with NSSGA’s Gus Edwards here.

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