Understanding Advocacy

Will BrownOne of NUCA’s greatest member benefits, without question, is advocacy. NUCA brings together a robust and diverse group of utility and excavation contractors as members who leverage their size, strength and expertise to impact federal and state regulation and legislation. This is not a small task, but it’s one every member can be proud of, be actively involved in and see significant benefits from.

First, it is important to understand exactly what advocacy means to NUCA. Put simply, advocacy is the pursuit of priorities that will substantially benefit NUCA members and their businesses. These benefits come in different packages. Sometimes advocacy comes in the form of legislation. NUCA has advocated legislation designed to provide greater financing capabilities for the municipalities that hire NUCA members. Greater financing capabilities, like the expansion of Public Private Partnerships which NUCA successfully advocated for in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act that was signed into law last summer, have the potential to allow municipalities to fund a greater number of infrastructure projects available for NUCA members. NUCA has also successfully advocated for legislation that will lower costs for association members such as a tax provision on accelerated depreciation of certain business property, known to most of us as “bonus depreciation,” that will allow members to see tax benefits from equipment upgrades and purchases.

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Sometimes advocacy means combatting the overregulation or burdensome regulation from the Obama Administration. NUCA’s advocacy has fought regulations by submitting comments of opposition, banding together across industries to educate the people and the Administration on the perils of regulations and meeting with Administration officials to ease the burden of regulations on NUCA members. In the last year, NUCA has actively opposed several new regulations including the regulation of Silica dust, which is found everywhere and has already been regulated to nearly eliminate the direct health condition caused by over-exposure; the American Iron and Steel (AIS) requirement requires any iron or steel materials within a State Revolving Fund (SRF) project be made of iron or steel that is certified to be made in America; the Affordable Care Act regulation that defines a full-time employee by a 30-hour work week; and the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule that will significantly expand how the EPA defines “waterways” with respect to the Clean Water Act to never before intended areas like ditches and gullies, which will require significant bureaucratic and permitting requirements by NUCA members. These, and many other regulations, are at various steps along the rulemaking process, but NUCA takes an active role in protecting businesses, opposing regulations that make doing business more difficult and protecting NUCA members from increased bureaucracy and cost.

Sometimes advocacy means testifying before Congress. In March, former NUCA Chairman Ron Nunes testified before the House Appropriations Committee urging increased federal investment in two of the government’s most popular and effective job creating programs, the EPA’s SRFs. In his testimony, Nunes made the case for infrastructure as not only an essential element of our society, but also a matter of public health, public safety, economic stimulation and job creation.

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Sometimes advocacy means educating the public of what is, literally, right beneath their feet. NUCA is the founder of the Clean Water Council, a coalition of broad industries, manufacturers and suppliers that see and advocate for greater investment in water infrastructure. The Clean Water Council’s website (www.cleanwatercouncil.org) acts as a clearinghouse for relevant water infrastructure news. Updated continuously, visitors can see a bevy of information about the needs, costs of continued negligence and ideas for rebuilding America’s dilapidated underground infrastructure. Additionally, NUCA’s government affairs staff creates a weekly Clean Water Weekly newsletter/blog with up-to-the-minute information on water infrastructure failures, economic impact studies, cost studies and successful acts to increase water infrastructure investments.

Sometimes advocacy means joining or building coalitions to support NUCA’s goals. NUCA is a member of the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) whose primary goal is the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Working in conjunction with the TCC, NUCA has built support for several proposed bills that would create a sustainable funding source for the HTF, which is nearing insolvency. With the primary goal of a long-term, meaning six years or longer, package, NUCA has supported legislation, members of Congress and education initiatives to create a better landscape for infrastructure broadly. NUCA is also a member of the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Association (EEIA) representing the North American energy supply chain — suppliers of equipment, construction, materials, supplies and services to oil and gas upstream, midstream and downstream infrastructure and operations. With a growing number of NUCA members working in the energy sector, EEIA and NUCA work to educate members of Congress and the general public about the benefits and necessity of investing in American energy production.

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Everything NUCA’s advocacy does is with the benefit of NUCA members in mind. What may seem like very broad tactics and actions all approach one united goal: improving NUCA members’ businesses.

What cannot be forgotten is the role NUCA members play in our advocacy. The association’s premier, member-driven advocacy event, NUCA’s Washington Summit, recently concluded. Without member participation, NUCA’s advocacy wouldn’t be nearly what it is today. Participation by NUCA members creates a constituency component for Congress they cannot ignore.

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The 2015 Washington Summit was held May 18-21 in Washington, D.C. The Federal Issues Conference was on Tuesday, May 19, where nearly 100 attendees heard from four great speakers. Congressman Cresent Hardy kicked off the event with a rousing and motivating message to members. Hardy is a first-term Congressman from Nevada, whom NUCAPAC was instrumental in electing. Hardy spent four decades as a contractor and small business owner, so his ability to explain from both sides of the lobbying meeting was empowering to members. His message was clear: NUCA does make a difference when its members meet with and educate Congress on how to improve America’s infrastructure.

Second, Jeff Davis, Editor of ENO Transportation Weekly, led a technical discussion about how federal investment in infrastructure, specifically the HTF, impacts the rest of government and the economy. Ensuring the longevity of the HTF is one of NUCA’s priorities and members found Davis to be incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Third, Toby Mack from EEIA discussed the economic impacts of producing American energy, and the need for greater investment in infrastructure to do so. Lastly, Bo Harmon, the Senior Vice President of Political Affairs at BIPAC, discussed the political and electoral side of advocacy, encouraging members to engage their employees on the issues that matter to their business and the impact sharing their expertise can have toward making Congress an infrastructure-promoting landscape. Each of these speakers was chosen because of their expertise and relevance to NUCA’s priorities.

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The afternoon Legislative Issues Briefing equipped attendees with the information, skills and confidence to advocate for NUCA’s priorities on Capitol Hill. Every one of NUCA’s priorities were explained in detail with discussion for clarification. The four issues NUCA promoted this year were: (1) ensuring the longevity of the HTF; (2) promoting innovative infrastructure financing; (3) stopping harmful regulations; and (4) supporting annual appropriations for SRF and Rural Utility Service programs. Once each of these issues were explained and members were confident in their comprehension, we led a Congressional meeting role-play to help members understand what to expect in their meetings. Members watched each other play out common meeting scenarios, which gave them confidence in their ability to be effective advocates in a fun and informal way.

After the Legislative Issues Briefing, the pace slowed and attendees mingled for happy hour before boarding a double-decker bus for a tour of D.C.’s beautiful monuments.

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Wednesday, May 20, was NUCA’s day on Capitol Hill! Members fanned out across the House and Senate, taking our message straight to legislators and lobbying for our issues. In total, NUCA members met with nearly 200 members of Congress or staff — the largest number NUCA has reached since before the recession. The group met on the Capitol steps around lunchtime for a group photograph and an award presentation. Congressman John Delaney joined NUCA members to receive the “We Dig America” award for his efforts introducing and building support for solutions that will infuse hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure. The day concluded with a Congressional Reception in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Room. Numerous members of Congress and Congressional staff stopped in for casual conversation with NUCA members who used this opportunity to further build relationships.

The effectiveness of the Washington Summit goes far beyond the lobbying on Capitol Hill. Yes, lobbying is an essential part of advocacy, but more important are the relationships forged through these meetings. These relationships are at the heart of why NUCA’s advocacy is effective. Building a rapport and trust with members of Congress and their staff open NUCA up to greater opportunities for influence, and I’m happy to report that the 2015 Washington Summit was the most effective advocacy event since I took over Government Affairs in 2012.

NUCA’s advocacy is growing, becoming more reputable and making a lot of good things happen for members. The key to greater accomplishments and “wins” is getting involved. One of the strongest actions every single member can take to promote our issues is becoming and staying involved. Joining NUCA, receiving our informative newsletters and joining my Political Insiders group will give you the tools, the motivation and the opportunities to build NUCA, your industry and your business. That’s what NUCA’s advocacy does.

Will Brown is the Director of Government Affairs for NUCA.