A Capitol presence

The Geosynthetics Materials Association supports industry growth with its annual lobby days in Washington, D.C.

The Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA), a division of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), has kept a consistent presence in Washington D.C. through the work of its contracted lobbyists and has two “fly-ins” or lobby days each year. During lobby days, GMA member companies meet with congressional offices and work to develop a list of congressional “champions” by keeping in regular contact with them to educate and articulate policy positions.

GMA member companies have made it a priority to invite members of Congress to visit their manufacturing facilities—visits that have helped to solidify relationships, not only for GMA but for the member companies, as well. When congressional support of a GMA issue is helpful, GMA has a list of champions it can call.

Unified effort

Sept. 18–19 GMA held its second lobby days of 2013; the first was held in the spring. Seventeen representatives from fourteen IFAI member companies, two IFAI staff members and five GMA lobbyists participated in the two-day event. Most of those present had attended GMA lobby day events in the past and had a working knowledge regarding the process and issues important to GMA. Lobbyists from the Whitmer and Worrall firm provided an issue and procedural briefing for those who were first-time attendees.

GMA also invited representatives from the North American Geosynthetic Society (NAGS) and the Erosion Control Technology Council (ECTC) to attend lobby days. GMA reaches out to other geosynthetic industry organizations to carry a broader geosynthetics message and to show members of Congress that there is widespread agreement on geosynthetic issues from a coalition of industry groups.

The details

September 18 attendees and lobbyists enjoyed a night of networking and baseball at the Washington Nationals Stadium, resting up for the following day, when 26 meetings with members of Congress and congressional offices were on the schedule. These included a transportation briefing by Alek Vey, legislative director for Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, and Jim Kolb, staff director of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Each congressional meeting involved a GMA lobbyist to make introductions and begin the discussion. Typically, several attendees were in each congressional meeting. If the meeting was with an office not previously visited by GMA, or if the meeting was with a new staffer in the congressional office, the meeting began with a primer on geosynthetic materials and their applications.

Next, GMA advocated for three issues during the congressional visits, although not all three issues applied to each meeting. The first issue was the Water Resources Development Act (WRRDA) bill, which funds the activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water-related projects, such as ports, canals, levees and shorelines. GMA was successful in getting geosynthetics supportive language in the House of Representatives version of the bill. The language reads:

“Sec. 129. RESILIENT CONSTRUCTION AND USE OF INNOVATIVE MATERIALS. The Secretary, to the extent practicable, shall encourage the use of durable, resilient, and sustainable materials and practices, including the use of geosynthetics materials and innovative technologies, in carrying out the activities of the Corps of Engineers.”

GMA members encouraged Senate offices to adopt the House version.

The second point advocated was adoption by the senate of HR 2218 related to coal ash storage sites. Coal ash is produced by electric utility facilities that use coal as an energy generator; 44 percent of the electricity in the United States is generated by burning coal. This bill requires that coal ash be stored in sites lined with geomembranes, and it designates coal ash as non-hazardous waste. It is estimated that the lining of coal ash sites with geomembranes will result in $350 million dollars to the geosynthetic industry over the next five years. GMA member companies provide lining solutions in landfills; GMA wants to do the same for coal ash sites.

The final issue advocated by GMA during these congressional visits was passing the Highway Reauthorization Bill. Transportation spending by federal and state departments of transportation is an important market. GMA representatives and companies presented the positive attributes of geosynthetics materials in roadway construction, including savings in expenditures and construction time, and encouraged passing a long-term, well-funded transportation bill.