NSSGA chairman’s perspective

By |  February 24, 2014

We asked NSSGA’s chairman of the board questions about MSHA, surface transportation funding and the association’s direction as the group prepares for its annual convention.

Ward Nye, president and CEO of Martin Marietta Materials, was named National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) chairman around this time last year. Pit & Quarry Managing Editor Kevin Yanik recently asked Nye a few questions about association developments within the last year and its approach to lobbying for the next surface transportation bill.

Ward Nye

Ward Nye

P&Q: In a September 2013 meeting with MSHA’s Joe Main, you reportedly stated that some NSSGA members have expressed concerns that the association is too close to MSHA. According to these NSSGA members, in what ways is the association too close? What do those same members propose be done to adjust the nature of the relationship? What is feasible and realistic?

WN: First, any member of our industry who believes that NSSGA is “too close” to MSHA misunderstands our position. As any good trade association would, we will collaborate to the fullest extent possible on education and training of our employees, and to ensure appropriate enforcement.

Second, when we have made our case, and if we still cannot agree, we will petition the government for redress as our members deem necessary. It is why we have worked diligently to educate Congress about our demonstrated commitment to safety. It is also why, when necessary, we have entered into litigation before the U.S. Court of Appeals (on Pattern of Violations) or the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (on Drilling and Blasting Inc. v. MSHA) to advocate for accurate agency interpretations of the 1977 Mine Act and the MSHA standards implementing the act.

P&Q: At this same NSSGA-MSHA meeting, you reportedly brought up the notion of a transparent metric MSHA could use to track inspector consistency. Can you share any more detail on your vision for such a metric? What would it entail?

WN: We believe given Secretary Main’s efforts to improve consistency, it would further help if there were ways in which inspector consistency could be tracked. For instance, we suggested a regular update for both inspectors and operators when the agency – perhaps in the wake of a key Review Commission decision – makes an adjustment in the way in which it instructs how a standard should be complied with by operators and applied by inspectors.

P&Q: What is the association’s current take on inspector consistency? Is inspector consistency improving? Worsening? In what areas has it improved, and in what areas is there room for improvement? Is inspector focus in the right areas?

WN: We are pleased that Secretary Main has committed the agency to improving inspector consistency. Yes, we have seen improvement in places, and yes we hope for further improvement. We believe MSHA can focus much more on genuine risk [such as] those facilities that have not yet shown they are committed to compliance and safety.

P&Q: Can you share specific examples of ways NSSGA would like to see MSHA inspectors better interact with miners at high-performing operations? How would you currently describe the nature of the relationship between inspectors and miners?

WN: We believe inspectors can share “best practices” gleaned from one inspection with personnel at the next facility they visit. Also, we believe inspectors should be given the latitude to focus on the greatest risk to safety and health.

For instance, NSSGA has proposed a Pattern of Compliance program, by which operators having demonstrated excellence in compliance and safety can see a relative reduction in enforcement resources, so that those resources can be properly focused on operations warranting more enforcement. I think in this time of limited resources, a Pattern of Compliance program can help rationalize enforcement resources in a manner that only benefits safety.

P&Q: MAP-21 expires later this year. What are NSSGA’s goals for the next surface transportation bill, and what specific concerns does the association have about Congress’ ability to pass an effective, long-term bill?

WN: NSSGA’s goals for the next surface transportation reauthorization are to return to a six-year bill that increases investment in our nation’s roads and highways essential to maintain and grow the system. In the current partisan environment that plagues Congress and due to the [continuous] lurching from crisis to crisis, progressing any substantive issue has been difficult.

Transportation, however, is the one area where there is bipartisan agreement as exemplified by the recent passage of the reauthorization of the water resources bill, which is now in the conferencing process. We are hopeful that differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved quickly and that the bipartisan nature of the debate will serve as a model for debate on the next highway bill.

Since assuming the chairmanship of NSSGA, I have advocated building bridges. As it relates to transportation, NSSGA will work to build bridges among the various transportation coalitions so that we are working in tandem for a solution to the transportation-funding dilemma. It’s critically important that we speak, as much as possible, with one voice.

That said, I was struck by the fact during the MAP-21 debate that the voice of the governors was silent. NSSGA has been actively involved in the process of building a coalition of governors who will weigh in with lawmakers on the importance of passing a reauthorization bill before the expiration of the current law when the Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent. States will stop work on needed transportation projects in the absence of reauthorization and federal funding. Short-term extensions are untenable and make informed business planning impossible.

There is no doubt that it will be difficult, but NSSGA does not accept that passage of a robust reauthorization is impossible before the end of [fiscal year 2014]. We recognize that reauthorization is unattainable without the involvement of our grassroots who must educate their neighbors, community groups and local businesses on the importance of transportation to their lives and work. Only with pressure from their constituents will Congress be moved to act.  With the commitment of NSSGA members and in collaboration with our coalition partners and their grassroots, we will work tirelessly toward the ultimate goal.

P&Q: Anything else NSSGA-related you would like to add?

WN: Late last year we conducted a benchmark survey of our members – the first of its kind that I can remember – and from that we’ve assembled a 15-member Strategic Plan Task Force with an aim of building a long-term strategic plan focused on what matters most to the success of our members and their business and to the aggregates industry.

Also, we’ve already presented an updated logo at our fall board meeting: an initial step in rolling out new initiatives and rebranding NSSGA that we hope will bring new energy and excitement throughout the organization. Those initiatives, combined with the recent launch of our new website, will help promulgate our messaging and engage new members from around the country.

Finally, and I talked about this in my chairman’s acceptance speech, we will continue to work closely with the state aggregates associations to make sure they understand what an important resource NSSGA can be for them and to make certain state association members, many of whom may not be members of NSSGA, understand the vibrancy and richness of our organization.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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