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Breaking down the industry’s legislative, regulatory agenda

By |  June 29, 2022
EPA under the Trump administration argued that the Navigable Waters Protection rule ended decades of uncertainty over where federal jurisdiction begins and ends. Photo: P&Q Staff

An expanded definition of Waters of the United States will only hurt the ability for National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association members to get aggregates out of the ground to be able to build infrastructure, says the organization’s Michele Stanley. Photo: P&Q Staff

P&Q: You’ve noted in the past that ‘aggregates are part of the climate solution,’ but there are obviously varying interests in Washington that could threaten our industry’s well-being as environmental and sustainability issues take center stage. All this said, how do you feel the aggregate industry is currently situated when it comes to this area? Should producers anticipate what we would deem ‘over-the-top’ environmental policies to emerge over the next few years under the Biden administration?

Stanley: I think legislation will be more difficult to pass considering how close both the Senate and House are. It isn’t likely that anything too drastic will get through. What we are seeing is some things happen on the edges like new regulations. But as you all know, in order for the aggregates industry to really make a significant emissions change, it’s all in the transportation.

With our sustainability taskforce, we’ve been talking about [if] there is a way to be supportive of rural electrification as some of the infrastructure money goes to those efforts. We have discussed partnerships with some of the rural members of Congress who are trying to get that money out to their districts. We are focusing on the areas where [producers] have facilities and where, right now, they have to use diesel because they’re not on the grid.

P&Q: How about the push toward electric and other alternate forms of energy? Our industry is obviously very diesel dependent. Are you concerned that the pace of policy development in Washington might be too quick for our industry’s potential ‘drift’ away from diesel fuel?

Stanley: I actually think the market is moving quicker than what legislation and regulations are going to get to. In order to be competitive, you have to be doing a lot of that already. We’re staying on top of some of the things coming out of the Hill and the administration. As of right now, there hasn’t been anything that would cause the industry to be super concerned on that front.

Rail

P&Q: Earlier this year, NSSGA submitted comments to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) detailing a number of issues with the transportation of aggregates on rail, including service that is cut, poor or slow. NSSGA wrote a letter to the STB about these issues back in April, and a hearing was held shortly thereafter to discuss the issue. Has NSSGA gotten any feedback since that hearing? Are we seeing improvements, or are rail transporters experiencing similar problems today?

Stanley: Things don’t move that quickly. It has been pleasantly surprising to see that the Hill, as well as the Surface Transportation Board, has been very open and understands the problems that shippers are having. They have ordered a list of things that the Class 1 rail carriers  must implement.

I think the most important thing is that the light has been put on this issue – and not only by industries like ours. We’re going to continue to see the STB push for the railroads to fix a lot of problems that have been out there.

They have a couple of looming things going on, as well. They’re really trying to go down the road to help the shippers so that [producers] can get [aggregates] where they need to go. The problems that have arisen because of COVID and other issues are really just too much to handle at this point. 

Labor

P&Q: Aggregate producers continue to struggle when it comes to hiring good workers. In a recent Stone, Sand & Gravel Review commentary, you wrote that ‘NSSGA supports policies and funding from the federal government to train workers and ensure aggregate producers can access the skilled employees needed to continue producing the building blocks of America.’ Do you believe there are policies in place that are hurting the industry’s ability to hire workers? Similarly, are there policies that should be put in place to ease a producer’s hiring burden?

Stanley: We have a pretty good working relationship with DOL (the U.S. Department of Labor) and with MSHA, but we have been engaged in quite a few regulatory issues at DOL over the last couple of months. Most of those make it difficult for [producers] to hire or retain employees.

One is the wage and hours overtime rule that’s out there right now. The other one is expanding [the] Davis-Bacon [Act] to materials transportation on jobsites, which we’ve heard quite a bit about from our members. Another is expanding PLAs (project labor agreements) to all federally funded infrastructure projects. The list really goes on and on, unfortunately.

On one hand, the administration put policies in place that support things like passing the infrastructure bill. But then they do other things which make it impossible to actually follow through with any of that. So what we’re hoping happens is that there’s enough pushback that a lot of these rules don’t end up becoming final; or that we can just drag out the process until the administration finishes.

Events

P&Q: Many Roundtable attendees were at AGG1 this year, and some of us were at the NSSGA Young Leaders Annual Meeting earlier this year. What feedback has the association gotten about AGG1 and Young Leaders? The organization must be pleased that producers returned to AGG1 in waves following what we saw at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020.

Stanley: We had record turnout and we’ve had really great feedback from everybody that was at AGG1. Our education sessions had the best turnout we’ve ever had. Every day, we had at least one standing-room-only class. That has never happened before. Usually on that [last day], classes are pretty sparsely attended. But we had one at 8 a.m. that had standing-room only. Members were eager, and Nashville’s a great city.

On the Young Leaders front, it was an alumni year and that helped and California was great. The feedback we received there was that the education classes and the general sessions were really focused on topics they wanted to hear about. We took into account some of the surveys we had gotten in previous years and really tried to mold that event into what the Young Leaders wanted to see.

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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