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As 2020 presidential election draws near, industry considers possible outcomes

By |  April 15, 2020

The following transcripts were edited from two concurrent discussions Jan. 15 at the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. Both conversations were edited for brevity and clarity.


Says Dan Johnson of The Concrete Co.: “If the current administration gets another term alongside a Republican Congress, I think we’d still get infrastructure spending because the president has made it a priority.” Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Says Dan Johnson of The Concrete Co.: “If the current administration gets another term alongside a Republican Congress, I think we’d still get infrastructure spending because the president has made it a priority.” Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

P&Q: Barring some unforeseen event, President Trump will square off Nov. 3 against the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in an election that should have an impact on the United States for generations to come. What effects would Trump’s reelection have on your business and the industry at-large? On the flip side, what impact would you expect a Democratic president to have? Consider the regulatory (i.e., Environmental Protection Agency, Mine Safety & Health Administration) and legislative effects (i.e., infrastructure, health care) of each party winning the election. What are your greatest concerns of each outcome, and what opportunities might each administration present in 2021 and beyond?

KAREN HUBACZ-KILEY (BOND CONSTRUCTION CORP.): From my perspective, it’s going to be a double-edged sword because Trump has been phenomenal with rolling back regulation for us.

We personally were sued by a people’s action group because of Waters of the U.S. Part of what these people did was they wanted to take control of our siltation ponds and say they were waters of the U.S. So I have been very proactive talking to Congress and playing a part in rolling back that Waters of the U.S. rule from 2015.

If a Democrat gets in, then there’s a problem where the new rule, once it’s implemented, is going to be rolled back again. This is exceptionally concerning. The Democrats want to spend, which is great for infrastructure, but if I don’t have siltation ponds, how am I going to manufacture my materials?

Again, there are both positives and negatives, and we’ll roll with the punches once it comes.

ROB VAN TIL (RIVER AGGREGATES): For us, our ability as a country to become energy independent over the past decade has really been a game-changer – particularly for our state (Texas).

As you hear some of the candidates talk about additional regulations on the energy industry, I would be very concerned if those things were to come to pass and what that means for our long-term growth and our economy, not just in Texas, but throughout most of the country, which is enjoying the energy independence that we’ve gained over the last 10 years.

SHELDON SHEPHERD (TECWEIGH): With different people I’ve talked to and through watching the news while avoiding sensational news, we are going into a little bit of a state of uncertainty, as you always do in an election year.

We don’t just live in a U.S. economy anymore; we live in a global economy. There are things that can happen outside the country, or events that can have an impact on the United States. [Addressing] areas like highway construction spending and bridges that need to be updated will [present] positive benefits for the industry.

There’s always a lot of focus on the presidential election, but just as important, if not more important sometimes, is the legislative branch. They’re the people who really write the rules. The executive branch can influence regulations, but it’s the people who pass them and the president who signs it off.

Arcosa’s Scott Alexander, a regular attendee of the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, discussed how the aggregate industry has benefited tremendously in recent years from the oil and gas sector’s growth. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Arcosa’s Scott Alexander, a regular attendee of the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, discussed how the aggregate industry has benefited in recent years from the oil and gas sector’s growth. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

SCOTT ALEXANDER (ARCOSA): I’m trying to take a somewhat philosophical approach to it. If you think about it, there were a lot of people who thought if the current president won – which he did – that there would be an apocalypse. Somehow, I think our industry has done quite well.

Mike [Johnson], (NSSGA president and CEO), thinks with a Democratic group in place that there would be a lot more infrastructure spending, but the counter to that is environmental legislation.

As Rob mentioned, our industry has had a nice shot in the arm in terms of aggregate production and supply, just based on the oil and gas segment. It’s an impressive amount overall. If that were to go away, that would be negative.

We can spend the whole day talking about positives and negatives, but at the end of the day, having been in this industry for almost 40 years, I don’t know that it’s going to make a huge difference one way or another.

RICK MADARA (MCLANAHAN CORP.): Who’s in office can affect a lot of things as far as permitting and the challenges that we face in our industry. For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to consumer confidence. If our customers (producers) and manufacturers are confident in the economy, they’ll spend money.

I do think if there’s a change in the election, the confidence will dip a little bit. But it will come back again. We’ll see what happens.

Again, if the people are confident in spending some money and the economy is robust like it is now, I don’t see a big change. If there is a change – a presidential change – I do think that will change things briefly, but we’ll figure it out over time. I think it will come right back to where it was. That’s my hope. I’ll be optimistic.

Amcast’s Tomaso Veneroso believes consumer confidence is a bigger contributor to the well-being of our industry than the political setup in Washington. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Amcast’s Tomaso Veneroso believes consumer confidence is a bigger contributor to the well-being of our industry than the political setup in Washington. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

TOMASO VENEROSO (AMCAST): Today during breakfast, we saw a presentation about the election in the U.S. that offered a lot of clarity. At the end of the presentation, we heard how [the industry] is much better off if there is a little bit of balance between the two powers (Democrats and Republicans), so they create a synergy in making agreements.

I agree with Rick about consumer confidence. The atmosphere is much more important than politics. I would venture to say that the cycle of deciding anything in politics is corrected by the economy. It also depends on the sector – like mining, for example. As a cycle, it’s extremely lengthy. One individual in the mining sector doesn’t make that much of a difference. Sometimes as a producer, [a cycle] takes even 20 years.

BRAD NICHOLS (SYNTRON MATERIAL HANDLING): The election does present a potential consequence. If we go the other direction (away from Trump), that will make significant issues not just for aggregate, but for coal. We faced a lot of issues with the coal companies that we deal with, having to work with issues related to water – surface water and things of that nature.

If I can be honest: I think if another Democratic administration would have come in right after (President) Obama, it would have bled over into the aggregate world just as fast. They had a direct effort with coal that created a lot of issues. Those environmental issues are costing the coal industry millions of dollars. So that’s one issue.

One thing we really need here is the rebirth of the manufacturing sector in the U.S. It’s what drives consumer confidence up. It helps drive up wages, which helps drives up home sales. And as the home sales markets start to return, it’s going to drive the aggregate business.

It’s a never-ending cycle. You can see as houses start to go, then it goes to commercial building and, of course, to the aggregate business. So anything that could continue to drive that would be very positive for our industry.

DAN JOHNSON (THE CONCRETE CO.): Painting with a really broad brush, if you’ve got a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, we’d see a lot of infrastructure spending that would be great for business. We’d see increased regulations, which would be hard on the business. And we’d probably see, in general, a slowing of the economy, just because of the fact the Democratic Party is a little less friendly to business.

If the current administration gets another term alongside a Republican Congress, I think we’d still get infrastructure spending because the president has made it a priority. Infrastructure is one of his goals, so I think that would be good for the business.

I think we’d probably see some relaxed regulation, although it seems like that takes a lot longer to filter in. There might even be a window open for the administration to grab that MSHA bull by the horns and wrestle it down to see if we can’t fold it into OSHA (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration).

I’m really stretching here, but if President Trump got a Republican Congress – because he’s very anti-the-administrative state – it would be a tremendous window of opportunity to try to reduce regulation on our industry. We’re probably one of the most regulated industries in the United States.

I read a story about how they calculated the MSHA accident rate. The MSHA accident rate for MSHA employees was higher than the rate for the aggregate industry, which is shocking. [The story] made the point [that] we’re being regulated by a group that needed to be regulated themselves.

If MSHA set a goal 40 years ago or so, they have wildly exceeded it. Their reasons for being are almost nonexistent in my mind. They’ve done a tremendous job helping us build great safety programs, but we don’t want somebody looking over our shoulders all of the time anymore. I think there’s a lot of argument that we could compare ourselves to any other industry in the United States to show our accident rates, incident rates and fatalities. Just the fact that they (MSHA) laid out there that their goal is zero fatalities shows that they’re bankrupt for ideas.

I’ve gone way too far off topic, but however the election goes, I think there are going to be benefits for this industry because everybody realizes the need for increasing infrastructure. It’s just that if it’s still divided, it’s hard because everybody wants to take the win. Nobody wants to give the other side the win.

DAVID CISZCZON (POLYDECK): I would be very worried about regulation if a Democratic administration comes into town. That concerns me a lot. On the flip side of that, there certainly seem to be more pros as far as finding the dollars for the infrastructure. I do think, though, that if the Trump administration gets another four years, I think that would be really good for our industry.

President Trump seems to be on point to use the word ‘infrastructure’ more than just about any other president. I feel infrastructure is something they should be able to come together on. You would think it would likely be a win-win for both of these parties.

I’m actually optimistic that something will happen. I think they do need a win. But I think it’s one of the most likely things that they could come together on.

VENEROSO: From an aerial view, maybe a possible line between regulators and the business is for regulators to understand that the business future has to prove the social and environmental responsibility as a pillar of the business model. I believe that there will be a way out of underwriting between regulation and business because of the business, mining, aggregate, suppliers, producers and their support. There is really a big push toward social and environmental responsibility as a core of any business plan.


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