NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
Lobbying Beyond Legislation
BY ARIELLE EISER
For decades, federal government relations and advocacy has been synonymous with traditional Congressional lobbying. In truth, the key role of regulations has always been understated, but it’s an area that NSPE is not overlooking.
Laws are often broad, vague, and require specific direction. As executive power has grown and Congress has become increasingly intractable, regulatory advocacy has become an essential part of a successful government relations and advocacy strategy. NSPE’s advocacy strategy has evolved and expanded to address the needs and interests of its members and to address the fact that there are more opportunities to advance and promote the interests of professional engineers through the regulatory process. NSPE is influencing key regulations across agencies with impressive success.
The extent and range of professional engineering services is so wide-reaching that many different departments and agencies within the federal government have substantial engineering components. In particular, the Environmental Protection Agency has become a powerhouse for the current era of regulatory advocacy. NSPE is therefore proactively engaging with the agency on multiple fronts.
In a major victory for professional engineers, the EPA’s final rule on emission standards in the oil and natural gas sectors, issued in June, asserted a strong, well-reasoned, and well-supported rationale for the need for licensed professional engineers to be in responsible charge on all engineering projects, both in an independent third-party capacity as well as in an in-house role. The rule states, “professional engineers, whether independent or employees of a facility, being professionals, will uphold the integrity of their profession and only certify documents that meet the prescribed regulatory requirements and that the integrity of both the professional engineer and the professional oversight of boards licensing professional engineers are sufficient to prevent any abuses.”
This significant regulatory victory is part of a larger pattern of recognition of the PE’s role. At the end of August, the EPA included strong requirements for a PE in its final rule on emissions and compliance related to municipal solid waste landfills. In September 2015, NSPE submitted a public comment to the EPA, commending the agency for proposing new safety measures requiring a professional engineer to prepare site-specific gas collection and control system plans as part of the proposed rule. In the final rule, the EPA requires that design plans continue to be prepared and approved by a PE. Specifically, the rule mandates that “the state plan must include a process for state review and approval of the site-specific design plan for each gas collection and control system. The collection and control system design plan must be prepared and approved by a professional engineer.”
These two major victories with the EPA have represented a critical breakthrough for NSPE’s regulatory advocacy efforts. However, NSPE’s reach and input extends far beyond the EPA with significant regulatory efforts with the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Transportation. In August, NSPE President Kodi Jean Verhalen, P.E., Esq., F.NSPE, submitted a public comment to the Securities and Exchange Commission in response to a proposed rule requiring mining companies to disclose resources and reserves to investors. The SEC proposes to require a “qualified person” to classify a deposit as a reserve. The draft version defines a “qualified person” as “an eligible member or licensee in good standing of a recognized professional organization at the time the technical report is prepared.” The proposed rule then goes on to define a “recognized professional organization.”
In the public comment, Verhalen commended the agency’s recognition of professional organizations’ value and the high standards to which associations such as NSPE hold themselves. However, for the purposes of this rulemaking, NSPE strongly urged the SEC to revise the rule to define a “qualified person” as, “A licensee in good standing with a board authorized by US state statute to regulate professionals in the mining, geoscience, engineering, geology and/ or related field. Moreover, the qualified person must be licensed and in good standing with the duly authorized board in the state or territory in which the deposit is located.”
In her letter to the SEC, Verhalen explains the recommendation, stating, “The US state or territorial licensing board is responsible for ensuring that licensees meet standards of education, experience, and ethics and is also empowered to take action and even revoke a license when these standards are not met. To practice engineering, one must be licensed in the state. If, for example, a qualified person is completing a reserve evaluation in Montana, he or she will need to be licensed in Montana.” The final rule is still pending.
In an era of regulatory advocacy, NSPE is proactively engaging agencies to promote the key role of the licensed professional engineer and yielding results. The Society is continuously working to build on and expand these opportunities. NSPE expects regulatory advocacy to be a critical avenue for advocating for the PE for years to come.
Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s senior government relations manager.