By Mark D. Anderson, Esq., Co-Chief Executive Officer & Principal
I have worked with State Regulatory Groups throughout my career. While they can be challenging to navigate, I have found that the meetings can be effective forums to develop key relationships and advance state and federal issues. But unlike most Groups of elected officials, Regulatory Groups typically have no formal avenue for private sector participation. In the past this has been an obstacle to effectively engaging with these Groups, but recent changes at some of the smaller policy-focused Regulatory Groups are creating new opportunities.
Large Groups, such as the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), have substantial funding streams from publications and conferences. The smaller Groups are often more reliant upon federal funding. As these funding streams have dried up in recent years, these Groups are becoming more creative about financing their operations.
Sponsorships are one way these Groups are augmenting their budgets. The Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO), a Group I work with closely, recently instituted a sponsorship policy for the first time since the organization was founded in 1974. The policy acknowledges that sponsors may obtain a benefit from being able to provide information to its members, but it also provides strict anti-conflict guidelines.
As another example, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) has instituted a one-day State Environmental Protection (STEP) meeting. The STEP meeting allows attendees to focus on a topic that benefits from a more in-depth and inclusive discussion than is possible at regular ECOS meetings. Unlike other ECOS conferences, private sector organizations are allowed to sponsor the meetings and participate in discussion. Last year, the STEP meeting considered the issue of hydraulic fracturing. This year, the STEP meeting is addressing the Clean Air Act 111(d) rule proposal, released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency on June 1. This meeting will help the states to prepare comments on this rule and begin planning compliance plans.
Whether these two developments are anomalies or mark the beginning of a trend remains to be seen. Now is still a good time to assess what Groups representing regulatory officials are doing in your issue areas of concern. If you are not presently engaged, look into getting to know these Groups and their leaders. Consider taking advantage of the new programs for private sector participation.
1. Regulatory Groups are not always open to the public. I have frequently heard complaints from the private sector that these meetings should not be closed due to state sunshine laws. The reality, however, is that these meetings are not used to develop state policies. They are used instead to share information and take positions on federal issues. State sunshine laws, therefore, do not apply. If you want to attend, you must be invited by the organization.
2. Most Regulatory Groups do not have corporate membership or programs. When you attend one of these meetings, you are attending as a guest. The Regulatory Groups that I have dealt with are wary of being seen as influenced by the business community. Members may have differing degrees of sensitivity to this that may be dependent upon political issues in-state, or the industry you represent. You should be respectful of their delicate position. Do not be surprised if your offer to take a member to dinner, buy a drink or even a cup of coffee is denied for this reason.
3. Respectfully mind the relationship between regulators and the regulated community when engaging on issues at Regulatory Groups meetings. Many of the individual state members of these organizations will agree with you that education from stakeholders is critical to good policymaking. While lobbying occurs at these meetings, and I would argue that it should occur, discretion is critical. When state regulators are perceived to be influenced by lobbying from stakeholders, they lose credibility among their peers. In the long run, that only hurts you and the regulator.
4. Regulators appreciate your understanding of their area of expertise. For regulators, one of the satisfying aspects of these national organizations is the opportunity to interact with people that deal in the same, sometimes very narrow, arena. I have found that the best way to develop good relationships with regulators is to begin by being proficient in discussing their areas of expertise.
5. Be prepared to discuss your issues. Small Regulatory Groups are often sparsely attended by the private sector. This creates great opportunity for substantial interaction with members of the Group. However, if you attend one of these meetings, you and your organization will be noticed. Be prepared to explain why you are at the meeting and which particular issues interest you.
If you have a policy issue to address, there is almost assuredly a Regulatory Group appropriate to address the issue. New avenues for participation are making this easier than before and bringing new stakeholders to the table. If you follow the foregoing best practices for respectful participation, working with Regulatory Groups will be an effective way to engage your issues.