We Participate

Earlier this year I attended the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Among all of the technical presentations and data and facts, one of the most memorable quotes came from a training session about training. The presenter was Chris Liban. The quote in my memory was,

“We are not surprised because we participate.”

Mr. Liban was representing the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority as its Deputy Executive Officer for the Environment. The overall theme of the workshop was environmental training for transportation workers. During his presentation he shifted to the topic of participation in regulatory processes. I recently found my notes with the exact quote. He actually said, “Because we comment, we are ahead of the game”  (I was pleased that I had at least remembered the general intent).

He was making the point that if an organization has a culture of participation, shifts in regulatory language or even regulatory interpretation don’t come as a surprise. We typically learn of changes on the horizon, if we are paying attention, sometimes years before they actually hit the fan. Today, agencies are often very intentional about getting the rationale out in the public space early. The information can calm rumors, and if nothing else, enables an early start on a positive spin. (I acknowledge that this is not and has not always been the case, but I think we have seen a major shift in marketing in this area with the increase in professional connectedness of today.)

If you were surprised several years ago when EPA placed a numeric limitation of 280 NTU in the general permit, you had likely not been paying attention. If you had been participating, you would have been breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t the 13 NTU originally proposed.

If you were surprised that EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (known collectively  to some simply as, “Obama” ) recently dared to declare tributaries as being Waters of the US, you have likely not been participating (or regulated).

If your state general permit has language in it that is neither implementable nor enforceable, and that language has been there for the last three permit cycles, you are likely not participating to the extent that maybe you should be.

Effecting and managing change is never easy. But it is necessary. It is required to keep up with or get ahead of competition and required to maintain pace with the ever Ratcheting Environmental Pendulum. If you want to make change less shocking and disruptive, let your people know what’s coming. Let them know early and often. Let them know why, let them know how bad it could have been and let them know how their organization worked to make the change more in line with our interests.

The only way to put yourself in that position is to participate.

You are regulated by at least one permit that will expire before the next president completes his or her first term. What will the next one look like? What is unfair or unreasonable about the current permit? How could the permit language better protect the environment while at the same time reduce your burdens?

Your regulator will accept your comments and will likely consider your concerns well before the official comment period begins.  Go ahead and start the conversation now. Comment, and get ahead of the game.