Rebooting Efforts in DC

At this summer’s Pellet Fuels Institute board meeting, a decision was made to host our fall meeting in Washington, D.C., and pair it with a day of policy advocacy on Capitol Hill.
By Tim Portz | December 11, 2019

At this summer’s Pellet Fuels Institute board meeting, a decision was made to host our fall meeting in Washington, D.C., and pair it with a day of policy advocacy on Capitol Hill. The choice was rooted in the recognition that while the pace of progress on any effort in Washington is agonizingly slow, walking away from federal policy and regulatory advocacy completely just isn’t an option for our association. What ultimately grew out of this recognition were arguably the most successful and most energizing three days our organization has had in the past two years.

We started by inviting like-minded associations to speak to our board about their approach to federal advocacy. We were interested in hearing everything. What percentage of their annual budget did they commit to the effort? How did they measure success? Did they utilize member fly-ins on a regular basis? How did they manage disappointment within their membership when policy goals weren’t achieved or didn’t advance at the pace everyone had hoped for? We were joined by staff from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, Biomass Thermal Energy Council, National Wood Pallet and Container Association, Alliance for Green Heat, Hardwood Federation and the Alliance of Forest Owners. The conversations were lively and robust.

Overwhelmingly, our conversations led us to the same place. Despite the ongoing frustration and slow pace of policy work, trade associations need to maintain relationships with their elected representatives on Capitol Hill. During every conversation, education emerged as a theme. If trade associations don’t educate senators and representatives about their industry, who will? For anyone who has spent time in the wood energy sector, that thought alone should give them pause.

These conversations sharpened our thinking and stoked our enthusiasm for the full day of Hill visits in front of us. Our schedule included meetings with 16 senators and their legislative staff, and 20 representatives. We divided into five teams, worked through our talking points, and strategized about how to best put our industry into context for the policymakers we were visiting.

One of the lessons from our conversations with other association leaders was the importance of having a well-articulated policy “ask” prepared for our conversation. While this may feel like lobbyist speak, I was asked by multiple senators and representatives what our ask was. It makes sense. Our elected representatives vote on federal laws, establish budgets and launch or scuttle federal programs. These are the tools they have available to them, and they expect their constituents to inform them about the policies that are vital to them. In the last full two-year Congress (115th) over 13,000 bills or resolutions were introduced or reintroduced, and just 68 became law (roughly 1%). This was a sobering realization for our entire board and helped us better understand the long road facing bills like the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act, which we have been championing for years.

This also brought into sharp focus the importance of maintaining support for these bills and finding new sponsors and co-sponsors in each new Congress. For instance, we were thrilled to meet with freshman Congressman Jared Golden, representing Maine’s 2nd congressional district. Golden assumed office just 11 months ago. His predominantly rural district is the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi river and home to several wood pellet production facilities. The BTU Act was originally introduced to Congress long before Golden was elected, yet he has already come aboard as one of nine co-sponsors on the bill. He did so because constituents asked him to, and made a case for how it helped his district.   
Perhaps the BTU Act will finally get passed into federal law during Golden’s tenure. If it doesn’t, someone will need to darken the doorway of the next representative of Maine’s 2nd district, educate them about the vital importance of wood pellet manufacturing there, and ask them to support the BTU Act. If not the PFI, then who?

Author: Tim Portz
Executive Director, Pellet Fuels Institute
[email protected]