Producers, manufacturers discuss troublesome regulations

By |  May 1, 2018

The following transcripts were edited from two concurrent discussions at this year’s Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference.

Photo courtesy of Two Rivers Marketing

P&Q Roundtable attendees detailed some of the challenges they’ve encountered at the local level when attempting to open a new quarry operation. Photo courtesy of Two Rivers Marketing

P&Q: What are your thoughts on today’s business regulatory environment and how does that environment compare to the one in place prior to the Trump administration? Have you experienced regulatory change in the last year or so of business? Also, in terms of permitting, tell us about the challenges aggregate producers face these days to get a new mine site up and running. What long-term effects do you anticipate this having on the aggregate industry?

Brent Ward (Summit Materials): I don’t directly deal with the permitting process, but I talk to a lot of managers in our operating companies that do. I think it’s still a little too early. We haven’t had a lot of projects to understand how much difference there is. I think the sentiment is that the regulators are going to be a little bit more reasonable and cooperative.

Headshot: Brent Ward

In my previous experience with permitting, there are two factors that seem to affect the speed of the process: one was the backlog of the inspector; number two was the public sentiment for the project. So one concern that I have is these stories about how the Trump administration is opening up monuments or allowing coal miners to pollute the environment. We need to be prepared and get ahead of that and let our neighbors know that we are good stewards of the environment.

Dan Johnson (Anderson Columbia): I think every aggregate operation tries to be a good steward of the environment. It kind of depends on whom you’ve got for neighbors, how close they are and what kind of incidents you may or may not have.

One of the things we saw is one individual who’s got some influence or some friends, through the use of social media and everything they can get tied in, they can get advice from … anybody and everybody that’s anti-quarry. So they have a much easier time getting information, marshaling resources and contesting and developing arguments against what you’re doing.

It’s just extremely difficult. And it wasn’t anything to do with us, the quarry or the plans for the quarry. It was just the people didn’t want us there and they were able to shut us down.

Karen Hubacz-Kiley (Bond Construction Corp.): That’s why community relations are so vitally important. Whether you’re a large producer or whether you’re a small producer, you need to be active at all times in the community and have an open door policy, because it only takes a handful of people to decide that they don’t want you there and you’re done.

Headshot: Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson (NSSGA): We had the pendulum way over here to the left with the Obama administration. Now the pendulum has swung way over here to the right and the Trump administration. We have very narrow periods in this country where the pendulum is actually in the middle, so we’ve got to take advantage of those swings as best we can.

I think we have been a very quiet industry for way too long. I think rocks are ubiquitous in some ways and people don’t think about how impactful they are to everyday life. We’re trying to do a better job in telling that story. We’re trying to equip our members to do a better job at telling that story. With social media, you have to do a better job in talking about the great things that you do. What is it we can do to better help you tell your story in a more meaningful way?

Dan Johnson: The only thing I can say in the operations is, when the prior administration was in, I don’t think we got any more or [fewer] MSHA citations, but our people work with a cloud over them because there’s so many things going on that they worry about, like this pre-shift inspection that MSHA is looking more and more to attach personal responsibility to and go after the managers and supervisors.

Ross Duff
(Duff Quarry): We found out firsthand the redundancy of dealing with the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) at the state and federal level. It’s an injustice to the American taxpayer to be funding both agencies that do the same thing. We would love to see it put back at the state level, under their control.

I have noticed during the Trump administration that they have rolled back a lot of the federal issues with the EPA and their standards. We’re excited about that. At the state level, that’s the closest to putting boots on the ground. As far as permitting, we haven’t really seen any changes for the worse, at least at our level that would be a worst-of-all case in the puzzle as far as national.

Scott Alexander (ACG Materials): I think it’s a little too early to tell. I think there’s a lot of talk out there with the new administration. They’re more friendly with business, so there’s the expectation that the regulations we need to follow and the permitting processes we need to go through are going to be a little friendlier.
We, like many companies, are involved in that on a daily basis and we haven’t seen any change other than that we’re hearing people saying it should get better, but I think it’s just too early.

Hal Williford (Memphis Stone & Gravel): On the state level, we’ve seen it be delayed, too, and when we talked to property owners that we were leasing from, or we were purposing a piece of property from them, it’s contingent upon us getting the permits. We used to tell them that our biggest issue is the local level, which it still is.

We’ve got one right now we’ve been working on for 10 to 13 years, so it’s in the courts and it’s definitely active. Especially with social media, it got ramped up as everybody is an authority now because they can research it. [With] the state permitting, we used to tell our property owners it would be three to six months. Now, we’re telling them nine months to a year. It’s just a lot more things that came out of the Obama administration. I don’t think the state departments actually know how to interpret some of the regulations that were coming down from the federal government.

Headshot: Brendan Devereaux

Brendan Devereaux (Hamm): There’s obviously a different tone, right? It’s pretty much out there. I echo Hal’s comment, though. We do quite a bit of opening new operations in northeast Kansas, and it’s all about the local politics. It varies on the type of area right where you’re going with the current uses, current environment. So it’s really up and down.

But, yeah, I think the tone is [different]. It’s positive from a regulation standpoint nationally. It’d be nice if we’d get that to filter more locally as well.

Dave Ciszczon (Polydeck): Can I ask a question? This is actually for [Ogletree Deakins’] Margo [Lopez]. You said that, regarding [MSHA] regulation, change is going to take some time. Why do you think this is going to take a while? And how long when you say a while? What does that mean?

Margo Lopez (Ogletree Deakins): There are actually two reasons I would say it would take a while. Historically, it always takes a while for the message to get to the front line and actually carry forward as their mission to change their enforcement tone.

Headshot: Margo Lopez

The other reason I say it’s going to take some time is a regulatory reason: MSHA is actually limited in the Mine Act in changes it can make to regulations. They can’t take a regulation off the books unless the agency can justify it as not having any appreciable effect on safety. It’s hard for them to take regulations off the books.

P&Q: Back to permitting for a moment. Getting a new mine site going takes quite a while. We hear stories of decades-long endeavors and all of the money companies put into these efforts. Is there a breaking point where regulators have to be more open and embrace quarries and operations if we’re going to effectively supply and provide the number of construction materials that we really need?

Alexander: I think California is a very good example. You’ve got a mining operation in California and operations have been in existence for a hundred years, [but now] are being shut down and the community doesn’t care if their material price goes from $10 a ton to $25 a ton. Transportation and the cost of our product don’t really affect the voting public because they don’t recognize it and appreciate how significant it is.

James Cox (Cemex): That’s true. In Florida, there are people like us that are on these county commissions and then they have constituents they answer to. But a lot of them just don’t care. They don’t want the mine operation.

We’ve got an operation we’ve been working on for eight years and it will probably be two years before we can open the gates. I believe we’ll have about $15 million tied up before we produce the first ton, so it’s very expensive.

 Photo by Gage Skidmore on / CC BY-SA

The addition of Scott Pruitt last year to the EPA represents a significant regulatory change for the aggregate industry on the environmental front. Photo by Gage Skidmore on / CC BY-SA

Pat Jacomet (Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association): We have to get out there and spread the truth about our industry. If we don’t do it, nobody is going to do it.

Like Hal said, these anti-mining groups are very well organized. They start a Facebook page. They’ve got their own websites full of misinformation. The only way that the citizens are going to get the right information is from us.

It’s hard because there is so much misinformation out there. It’s baffling that the common citizen has no idea where anything comes from anymore. So we’ve got to do a better job as an industry educating the public. We’re always going to have the enemies, but if we get out in front of it and we educate as many people as we can, we’ll be better off.

Devereaux: It’s all about the outreach you get in the community. We’ve really just started to do that in our business, [and we’ve] seen a quick impact. The reason it’s so important is it’s actually about the people who wouldn’t normally be against you.

We all have friends, neighbors, people in the community to complain about potholes and road conditions and they might say, ‘Oh, it’d be great if we had a cheaper option to repair those things and they were all for it until they see I’m a mile behind their house or something like that.’ So it’s educating people who wouldn’t be obviously against it as well that I think is actually most critical.

Headshot: Kevin Cadwalader

Williford: I believe the biggest disconnect between the local politics and our industry is when you go in to talk to them about the need for resource, they will always ask: ‘What if you don’t get this? Where will you get the material?’

You explain to them it’s either got to be railed in or it’s got to be shipped in by a barge or it’s got to be trucked in from a couple hundred miles [away]. Oh, so we can still get the material? And we say, ‘Well, yes.’
The thing is the transportation cost. I think that most of our city and county officials and the people that are in the planning and zoning departments don’t grasp that concept.

Kevin Cadwalader (REMco): The idea that the public doesn’t understand where this material comes from … all of us on our own are stewards for the industry, right? We’re educating friends and relatives. They still think back to a hundred years ago or so, and the industry kind of had a bad rep. But that’s not the industry today. So it’s up to all of us in our personal way to open up to these organizations that help notify the public. It’s all about the education.

Comments are closed