Archive for September, 2011

ECOS to EPA: It’s the Economy, Stupid

September 29, 2011

By Mark D. Anderson, Esq., Senior Vice President

The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) convened its 18th Annual Meeting earlier this week in Indianapolis, Indiana. Having attended all but one ECOS meeting since the inception of the organization in 1993, it has been a while since I’ve seen anything happen for the first time. The states agreed to craft a message to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the costs and challenges of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy.

State environmental agency leaders discussed two competing resolutions to deal with the EPA greenhouse gas targets. Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Tom Easterly introduced one resolution, and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Commissioner Collin O’Mara offered an alternative resolution. The primary difference between the two was that the Delaware version remained deferential to EPA’s timeline and the economic consequences of not achieving significant reductions. Both of these resolutions were similarly titled, “The Challenge/Feasibility of Achieving Significant Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reductions,” and both resolutions focused squarely on the economic costs associated with EPA’s impending greenhouse gas regulations.

When the resolutions were brought up for consideration at ECOS, all environmental agency leaders agreed that a unified message should be sent to EPA on the issue. The ECOS members politely agreed to table the resolutions and assemble a work group to develop a single message to EPA that would have the full backing of ECOS and that all could support. If the work group succeeds, this message will be brought forward for consideration at the spring 2012 meeting.

While discussions of the economic impact of most EPA regulations have been a mainstay at ECOS, true discussion about the economic impacts and costs of regulating greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented. Many state environmental commissioners approach climate change policy with views that are almost religious and would never, historically, entertain a discussion of costs.

ECOS has attempted to discuss a unified climate change policy many times in the past. The outcome of those discussions was always predictable—ECOS members would break down into two entrenched camps that would, after much consternation, agree to disagree. Whether they will be able to develop a unified message this time is, of course, not year clear. However, the simple fact that ECOS demonstrated such solidarity in assembling a work group to craft a single message to EPA on the costs and challenges associated with this EPA policy is indicative of a fundamental change. State environmental commissioners have been placed under such extreme pressure by this stalled economy.

Unlike EPA, the states do not have the luxury of simply setting a blanket environmental standard without having a plan for how to get there. This EPA has been prolific in developing rules which state officials claim will impede their states’ economic growth. In fact, over the past two years, Groups of State and Local Officials have sent 96 resolutions and letters to EPA. These letters decry the results of the rulemaking process that threaten to do further harm to the states and their economies.

As demonstrated at this week’s ECOS meeting, 2011 marks a year in which even the most environmentally-friendly state environmental commissioners are forced to face the economic realities of these difficult times. In other states, 2011 marks the year in which Governors have taken an even stronger stand within their own states against overregulation. So far six Governors have issued rulemaking moratoria to foster a more positive business environment and to stave off further job losses. The moratoria in Arizona, Nevada and Washington are still in effect and will remain so until 2012.

Having worked on environmental issues for more than 20 years, I was pleased to witness the discussion on this and other instances of EPA over-regulation that took place at the ECOS meeting. I just hope that EPA and the Administration were paying close attention.

Is this rumbling being heard either by EPA or by the White House? Some would argue the proof lies in the Administration’s recent withdrawal of the NAAQS ozone standard. Do you think that the EPA and the White House are waking up to the fact that overregulation hampers economic growth? Or was the withdrawal a mere gesture of deference for struggling state economies?

Riding Out the Storm

September 22, 2011

By Stateside Associates

State government affairs professionals rejoice and dread the time of year known as ‘end of session.’ The final days of a legislative session are full of lavish political fundraisers, staff potlucks and an overwhelming sense of camaraderie among staff, lobbyists and elected officials. Many celebrate legislative victories as bills reach the Governor’s desk and await that coveted signature prior to becoming law.

It is also a time where policy negotiations taper off, conflict ensues and legislation is often times held captive in opposing chambers for political reasons. In addition, last minute amendments completely alter the scope of a bill and legislation is expedited through the political process within a moment’s notice. Political parties are pitted against each other and members are pitted against their fellow caucus members.

Typically, it all begins with chatter. Rumblings during respective caucus’ meetings to announce leadership’s desire to address a specific issue that was not resolved previously. With that, amendments are drafted and seemingly non-controversial measures evolve into eleventh-hour policy shifts that are then presented to legislators without proper vetting. All the while, the halls are buzzing with lobbyists frenetically trying to obtain amendments and lobby staff as reporters furiously write articles and post commentary on social media sites while everyone awaits guidance from the House Speaker or Senate President.

Such scenarios are perceived by constituents and political theorists as dysfunction at its finest: an insult to the institution and legislative process that ignites calls for the days when transparency existed. This, however, is nothing new to me. Prior to working at Stateside Associates, I spent three remarkable years working as an aide in the California State Legislature. The experiences of working in a fast paced and unpredictable environment provided me the know-how and instinct that is necessary to succeed in the realm of public affairs. This first-hand experience opened my eyes to this trend that is fast becoming a common practice within state legislatures.

Government affairs professionals face a significant challenge as they prepare for adverse language cropping up in legislation during the concluding days of session. The lackluster economy has inspired elected officials to attempt to incite prosperity by any means necessary.

For example, on September 8, 2011 the California Senate amended a bill dealing with recycling and composting bins by inserting a comprehensive exemption in one of California’s oldest statutes requiring state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts (footnote). This measure was marketed by Senate President Darrell Steinberg as a necessary measure to spark job creation. The legislation was amended on the Senate floor, debated in an off the floor hearing, taken up without reference to the daily file, subsequently passed in both chambers and now awaits consideration by the Governor. All within a time frame of two days.

This is not an uncommon event and state government affairs professionals must have practices that anticipate this legislative shuffling when it happens behind closed doors. Understanding loopholes in rules and processes is a must, but learning the institutional machinations cannot happen overnight. Knowing a legislative body inside and out comes with time. As you work within a given state legislature, make it a point to understand the rules and how they can be bent or broken altogether. I saw firsthand as an Assembly staffer how the knowledgeable players protected themselves and their legislative agendas in the last-minute fray.

Be present if at all possible. The need to have a lobbyist on the ground in key states for your organization—especially where a legislature’s rules are flexible—is critical.

State government affairs professionals thrive because we love the pursuit. We love the feeling of accomplishment after successfully passing or defeating a piece of legislation that would dramatically impact our organization or clients. Knowing the nuts and bolts of the legislative process is not a glamorous part of the job, but in our business they are the keys to being successful when riding out the end of session wave of activity.

Footnotes:

(1) http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/more/faq.html

Social Media as Business Card

September 15, 2011

By Graham Grossman, Manager, Social Media Services

In the Beginning

Long before I was even born, only one social networking tool existed: the business card.

The contact information contained on a business card was once the only means through which we would know how to communicate with an individual. The business card facilitated communication and collaboration by offering a phone number and an address for people with whom we wanted to connect. In the world of government relations, the same applied; we would collect cards from elected officials and their staffers, lobbyists, businesspeople and prospective clients, trade association members and many others. We wanted to communicate and collaborate with these people and the contact information on their cards gave us the means of doing so.

But times have changed. When was the last time you heard an elected official tell a crowd to stop by his/her regularly scheduled office hours? Office hours? They don’t exist anymore! Officeholders prefer to hold conversations on Facebook and their office is always open on Twitter. The most successful candidates tell their supporters to Like them on Facebook, they regularly give out their website address, they ask supporters to forward their e-newsletters to friends and they count on voters stumbling across their website through a search engine result. Most politicians are savvy to how the game has changed.

What Changed?

Well, computers were introduced into the workplace. At first they didn’t offer much in the way of communications functionality. Although early models helped us crunch numbers, handle complex equations and process simple documents, as a communications tool, computers remained relatively useless for many years.

In recent years computers have become exponentially faster and have allowed for the digitization of data. Our interaction with and use of digital information is integrated into our workflow and has completely changed the way we do business. We’ve been able to ignore massive reference volumes and bulky research tomes, and we’ve grown accustomed to sharing hundreds of pages of information over the internet without having to rely on the office mail room clerk to physically deliver them. These clunky office processes and tools haven’t retained their effectiveness and have been phased out.

But the business card is still around. In fact, by the end of my first week working at Stateside Associates, a box of cards had already arrived from the printer. For many reasons, the business card will never die. We will still need a means of representing ourselves to new acquaintances and business contacts that we meet in person. It’s clear that the business card may never be wholly replaced by social media, but it is past its prime in terms of utility.

There are now hundreds of online tools that have emerged in the last decade that have started chipping away at the benefit business cards once offered. These digital platforms have multiple functionalities beyond simply facilitating the rapid exchange of communication—they serve as the channel for the communication. There are social media platforms for file and information sharing, news aggregating and sharing, social and professional networking, geo-locating and so much more.

The point I’m making here is that we no longer rely solely on business cards as the gateway through which we communicate in the workplace. Chances are the people we want to reach are already on LinkedIn, or maybe their name comes up as a search result on Bing. Whatever the case, professionals we collaborate with don’t have to rely exclusively on the stale confines of a 3” x 2” piece of cardstock to represent themselves; and neither should we.

Make the Investment

Many see this shift to communicating in the digital world as an obstacle. Some professionals take the view that investing in social media means adding an additional responsibility to the already crowded org chart. “How can we be expected to do everything we’re already doing and be expected to implement a new set of communications tools?”

Please, stop. I won’t name names, but some of you may have the ‘wisdom and grace’ to remember first-hand when email was first ushered into the workplace. It’s the same tune all over again. Workers were intimidated by email when it first hit the office scene. How would companies use it? How would professionals adapt to using the new medium? In hindsight, how could we ever have competed in the marketplace without it?

Social media is taking hold of how we communicate in much the same way communication shifted to email a decade or two ago. It’s changing the way we do business and we’re being forced to adapt. The tools available on the internet can send information much faster than a mailroom clerk ever could. These changes have made the means of communicating with other professionals apparent and readily available; we just have to have the foresight to invest in the right people to hold the reigns.

Get With It

We don’t need a person’s business card to know how to contact them anymore. Let’s be totally honest, if they’re really important and influential enough, we would already be seeing their Tweets, we’d already be reading their blog posts and we would at the very least be able to find their contact information on the web in few quick keystrokes.

The way we talk about and use social media is much the same as the way we once thought of business cards as granting us access. They were once the chief carriers of contact information which we required if we wanted to build a professional relationship, and by extension they gave us the means to grow our influence and professional reach.

Social media is the new way we influence decision-making, the way we impact the conversation and the means by which we reach colleagues and clients. We as government relations pros should understand it and use it to our benefit.


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