PFI speakers tackle advice for communicating with legislators

By Lisa Gibson | July 25, 2011

"Politics is based on relationships." Dave Devendorf, of legal firm Holland & Knight, confidently made the assertion to a group of about 85 people at the Pellet Fuels Institute Annual Conference July 24-26 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Devendorf spoke on the panel Government Affairs Roundup, which was geared toward communicating to PFI members the importance of forging affairs with legislators. Fellow speaker Ryan Carroll, PFI’s manager of government affairs, told the audience that PFI’s job is to defend its members’ right to do business.  

PFI has focused lately on a number of legislative issues, Carroll said, including the Maximum Achievable Control Technology rules. The final rules were released in February and include emission standards for major source industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and process heaters; area source industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and process heaters; commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators, and sewage sludge incinerators. The rules also include a definition of solid waste, which determines whether a technology will fall under a boiler or incinerator category, and thereby how strict its standards will be. Solid waste incinerators are subject to much more stringent emissions and under the current definition, a number of biomass resources will be subject to them.

The biomass industry has multiple concerns with the rules, but hope lies in a reconsideration period the EPA will hold until October. During that time, all industries affected by the legislation have an opportunity to communicate the detriments it will mean for them.

While PFI is working to make changes, including to MACT, as well as bringing about a more favorable environment for thermal biomass, the requests will have more clout if they have help. “We are most effective in doing our job when we have the support of our members,” Carroll said. Constituents have a lot of pull with their legislators and Devendorf had plenty of advice, telling attendees that they, in particular, have a lot of sway with Congress.

“Because there’s not a whole lot of folks who know about biomass; there’s not a whole lot of folks who know about biofuels; there’s not a whole lot of folks who know about pellets,” Devendorf said. “The folks in this room know a lot about it.”

He offered tips on how to effectively reach out to state legislators, such as writing personal letters, or calling a congress member or senator’s office. Most calls, he added, are from angry citizens, and staff members in the office are likely to remember an upbeat caller. “You don’t get very many happy people calling that office all day.”

Not only is it important to build a relationship with legislators, but also with their staff, Devendorf said. “The staff will ultimately advise that member,” he said.  Scheduling meet-and-greet appointments with staff and legislators to discuss concerns is wise, and setting oneself apart from others who enter that office is definitely a plus. “When [the meeting is] done, do something that no one else seems to do: send a thank you note,” Devendorf said, adding that a follow-up phone call to a staff member can be just as important.

Not a day goes by without some sort of new regulatory burden, Carroll says. It’s important for biomass industry members to step in and communicate with their legislators about just how burdensome those regulations will be, both Carroll and Devendorf agreed.