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Breaking down the industry’s legislative, regulatory agenda

By |  June 29, 2022
Michele Stanley, vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), took part in a Q&A at the 2022 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. Photo: PamElla Lee Photgraphy

Michele Stanley, vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, took part in a Q&A at the 2022 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

During the 2022 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, Michele Stanley, vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), offered a look at her organization’s efforts on infrastructure funding, key regulations, labor issues and more. P&Q’s conversation with Stanley took place June 8, and it was edited for brevity and clarity.

Infrastructure

P&Q: How would you characterize what you’ve seen thus far in terms of getting Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) funds where they ultimately need to be? Do you like what you’ve seen? Are there reasons to be concerned about IIJA funds getting out this year or in the years to come?

Stanley: Oversight and implementation of IIJA is our No. 1 priority right now. The money is used for formula funding to the states for [fiscal year] 22. It’s supposed to be going out through those formulas.

We’ve heard that some states have been slower in getting it out than others. We’ve also heard a lot about inflation and that some of the bids and estimates that the states have been putting out have been extremely low compared to what actual bids are looking like. There’s been a lot of discrepancies in cost already. I think we’ll probably continue to see that at least this year and into next year as well.

On the oversight side, there were a lot of things that didn’t get into IIJA that the administration wanted to see, specifically things around climate, sustainability, equity and those sorts of issues. The administration is really pushing some of those priorities, as they are implementing different parts of the bill, mainly within the grant programs. ,So we just have concerns about making sure that DOT (the U.S. Department of Transportation) is following the letter of the law, and not going off and implementing things the way they want to.

One of the specific items we’ve talked about quite a bit at NSSGA, and so have Sen. [Shelley] Capito (R-WV) and the Republicans on the EPW (Environmental Public Works) Committee, is a memo that was put out by DOT. It said as you’re going through and approving some of these projects, be sure to be looking for things that support our point of view on climate, things that are supporting more equity in projects. We’ve been aligned, I would say, with Sen. Capito and her team on that to really make sure that DOT isn’t just doing what they want, but that they’re following the law.

P&Q: Is there any reason to be concerned that IIJA money that was allotted to aggregate-intensive infrastructure such as roads, bridges and highways wouldn’t necessarily be distributed appropriately? Could they be moved over into other arenas that aren’t necessarily going to benefit our industry?

Stanley: It’s kind of twofold. That money has to go to highways and bridges. That was a significant portion of the bill. With the five-year authorization, it ends up being around $350 (billion) – that’s the formula money.

The area that I think we really need to be watching is the grants. They’re appropriated yearly, so [we have to make] sure that, as an industry, we’re supporting those programs that our folks supply projects to, and make sure those funding levels continue to be what they should be.

Stanley

Stanley

Mine safety

P&Q: Christopher Williamson, the new assistant secretary at the Mine Health & Safety Administration (MSHA), recently met with NSSGA staff. Can you share what Williamson offered during your visit? Do you have a sense after the meeting what Williamson’s priorities for MSHA will be?

Stanley: It was a good meeting. We brought in some of our safety leaders. He was really interested in hearing about some of the issues they’re concerned with at their facilities. He made it very clear that he wants to be a partner with us and not an adversary.

He’s been in the world of safety for a while, but he does not know the aggregates industry. So he wants to be educated, and he wants us to be reaching out and providing those resources for him.

I would also say: He was very clear that enforcement is one of the tools in his toolbox, but so is training and compliance. He wants our partnership in helping our members with this. One of the things you’ll see us working on is making sure MSHA’s pot of money for those tools stays at least level or increases over the next couple of years so they have the right amount of funds to be able to do that.

Environment

P&Q: It seems like we may be getting closer to an expanded Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The pendulum has swung on WOTUS time and time again with each administration change, and it seems like we could be going back to an Obama administration definition of sorts in terms of what constitutes a regulated water body. Can you offer any updates on WOTUS at this point, and do you have a sense of the timeline on any rule implementation?

Stanley: The new proposed [WOTUS] rule is very similar. We’ve stayed with our talking points that we’ve had for quite some time. We’ve really been doing our education on the Hill because, in 2020, there were 90 new members of Congress. That’s a lot of education that needs to happen [from] our end. We have had important meetings with the administration, EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and the [U.S. Army] Corps [of Engineers] to make sure they know where the industry is on this issue.

Our message is pretty simple: that an expanded WOTUS will only hurt the ability for our members to get aggregates out of the ground to be able to build infrastructure. It seems that, at least the folks we’ve been talking to, understand why that’s an issue.

I think what is different this time around is that the Supreme Court has decided to take up a case that could potentially have the jurisdiction back to where it should be. So yes, there’s rulemaking going on there. The rulemaking will probably finish toward the end of the year, but the Supreme Court case will be heard in the fall and then they’ll make a decision by spring of 2023.

I think this could be a defining moment in that we won’t have this pendulum going back and forth anymore, because the Supreme Court will have made their decision.

Jack Kopanski

About the Author:

Jack Kopanski is the Managing Editor of Pit & Quarry and Editor-in-Chief of Portable Plants. Kopanski can be reached at 216-706-3756 or jkopanski@northcoastmedia.net.

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