A Year in Review

Will BrownTo sum up 2015 in one word, it would be growth. The utility construction industry, as well as involvement in NUCA’s Government Relations, both grew this year. NUCA Members and Partners who attended the 2015 Washington Summit met with more Members of Congress than in any year since the recession. NUCA/PAC has experienced a growth in individual contributions and total dollars raised. The NUCA-founded Clean Water Council Coalition added members and grew the following of the Clean Water Weekly’s water news blog.

These accomplishments for NUCA are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the successes for the industry. According to a CQ Roll Call survey, 13 states view water infrastructure as a significant issue in the upcoming election. Attention from lawmakers at the state and federal level is increasing and moving in a positive direction. The public’s attention, interest and education on water infrastructure is increasing. One survey by MWH Global found that two-thirds of citizens believe their communities should be spending more to ensure the reliability and proper functionality of the water infrastructure they use. The same study revealed that 70 percent of survey participants believe water shortages will increase over the next decade. What was out-of-sight and out-of-mind is very quickly becoming clear and present as a direct result of NUCA’s education and publicity initiatives.

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Testifying Before the Appropriations Committee

In March 2015, NUCA’s Chairman (now Past Chairman) of the Board, Ron Nunes, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. In his testimony, Nunes articulated how grave the threat to America’s economy, public health and safety is if water infrastructure continues to be neglected. He said, “America can’t function without environmental infrastructure. It’s necessary for public health and good for business. It connects nearly everything we do on a daily basis and is a precondition for economic renewal and growth.”

Nunes’ testimony included a news story of an infrastructure failure, reported by the Clean Water Council in the weeks leading up to the hearing, from each of the subcommittee members’ home districts — impressing on the subcommittee that infrastructure is everywhere and no community is immune to failures if improvements and maintenance are not made priorities. Unfortunately, NUCA’s testimony was the sole voice for water infrastructure at the hearing. We will continue to be the standard bearer and continue to actively recruit supporters to take action with us.

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Washington Summit

In May, NUCA members from across the country descended on Capitol Hill for the annual Washington Summit. Since 2012, we have consistently grown our involvement and member participation on Capitol Hill, and this year was no different. Utility contractor-turned Congressman, Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.), kicked off our Legislative Issues Conference with a simple message: Get involved. Having seen first-hand what being on both sides of legislative meetings is like, Congressman Hardy explained to attendees the measurable impact they can make in attending events, both in Washington, D.C., and in their home districts. Educating Members of Congress on the benefits of investment and action in infrastructure, as well as on the perils created by neglect are paramount to legislative victories.

Attendees also heard from Highway Trust Fund (HTF) expert Geoff Davis, Editor of Transportation Weekly, whose sobering message about the lack of direction in HTF policy has created uncertainty at the state level that has slowed, and in some cases, stopped the bidding of projects.

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Bo Harmon, Senior Vice President of Political Affairs at BIPAC (an association representing the business community), stressed political involvement between employers and their employees. Making the case that employees actually look to their employer for information about political candidates and ideas that will impact their jobs, Harmon challenged attendees to begin a conversation with their employees about being politically involved and supporting pro-business candidates and initiatives.

Finally, Toby Mack, President of the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance, discussed the outlook for energy infrastructure and supply chain in the coming year.

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Attendees were briefed and prepared for their Capitol Hill meetings during the Legislative Issues Briefing. NUCA’s priorities were explained, and attendees were taught how to address the issues with their Member of Congress and staff. In a new attempt to help first-time, or otherwise unseasoned attendees, and build confidence, four mock meeting role-plays were conducted to give a visual for how meetings are conducted. These also served as providing seasoned attendees the opportunity to learn skills to combat some pitfalls of meetings. Feedback on these activities was greatly supportive and will be continued in the future. The program should encourage and empower greater participation by first-time Summit attendees!

The following day, NUCA members canvassed Capitol Hill meeting with more than 100 Congressional offices. During a ceremony on the steps of the Capitol Building, NUCA awarded Congressman John Delaney (D-Md.) with the “We Dig America” award for his active support and efforts to increase investment in infrastructure. At the end of the day, attendees mingled with Members of Congress and staff at our Congressional Reception which was a well-attended event.

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Government Relations Successes

Often in politics, wins are measured in small increments that accumulate into large victories. In 2015, NUCA saw both large and small victories. Growing our ranks in coalitions, Political Insiders group, NUCA/PAC supporters, Washington Summit attendees and Government Relations Committee are small successes that help us spread our message and garner greater recognition on Capitol Hill — with both our coalition partners and the general public. NUCA’s involvement in several coalitions has helped curb regulatory movement on several fronts.

First, NUCA and partners’ comments opposing OSHA’s proposed Silica Rule has slowed the rulemaking process and delayed indefinitely the proposed rules implementation. NUCA and coalition partners have also been outspoken opponents against the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which was recently halted by federal judges on grounds that the EPA may not have taken necessary steps in accounting the economic impact or feasibility of the rule.

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The infrastructure community was also able to avoid significant cuts to the EPA’s State Revolving Fund programs. House and Senate appropriators proposed cutting $550 million from the programs in their respective chambers, but neither chamber was able to pass the legislation. Before the Fiscal Year 2015 ended, on Sept. 19, 2015, President Obama signed a Continuing Resolution extending current funding levels until Dec. 11, 2015, giving legislators more time to iron out appropriations details. In the face of a nearly 25 percent reduction of federal appropriations, level funding is a significant victory. NUCA, in concert with our industry colleagues and coalitions, are already fighting to ensure cuts of this magnitude are not considered in the future.

Although it may not really seem like it, Congress has inched toward resolving the HTF Reauthorization. Short-term extensions in Sept. 2014, and May, July and October 2015, have resulted in authorizing legislation from each chamber that is expected to be negotiated in a conference before the end of the year. Both plans keep HTF spending at current levels and authorize three years of funding, though the House version has no financing component. Comprehensive tax reform is no longer a part of the conversation after months of discussions implying that tax reform would help finance the reauthorization.

Former Ways and Means Committee Chairman and new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised a new way of doing business in Congress under his leadership. Time will tell, but for the meantime NUCA Members can be proud of Government Relations accomplishments in 2015 and the foundations laid for success in the future with legislation, coalition building, industry strengthening and a robust political activism in the 2016 election cycle.

If you have any questions about NUCA’s Government Affairs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. Keep an eye out for the January issue of Utility Contractor where Inside Washington will lay out NUCA’s Government Affairs plan for 2016. Here’s a teaser: You’re involved.

Will Brown is NUCA’s Director of Government Affairs.