Unfortunately, the typical way many think about the relationship between the government and industry is that regulators are unreasonable and out to get you… while the private sector is unwilling to follow regulations and will try to get away with anything they can.
Wrong on both counts.
This may come as a shock to you:
Regulators are people too. Just like you and me.
They have a job. You have a job. That means you should interact with them as people. And vice-versa, of course.
In fact, reaching “across the aisle” and forming relationships with the other side can be mutually beneficial. And it’s easier than you might think.
Just like everybody else – just like you – regulators have good days and bad days. They watch sports on the weekends. They have families. They have hobbies.
You’re sure to find common ground. And while you might not become best of friends, having a good working relationship can make everything easier. When a regulator calls to schedule a meeting, it won’t be time to panic… but a welcome visit.
I recently received a unique insight into this issue thanks to a new addition to the Envision Environmental, Inc. team. Anthony Gammaro recently retired from a long-time career with the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC)and has come on board with us as an associate.
Anthony is the former manager of PVSC’s User Charge & Permit Management Division. The PVSC is one of the largest and most modern wastewater treatment facilities in the Eastern United States and one of the half-dozen largest in the entire country.
In Anthony’s experience when dealing with the many industrial facilities within the PVSC jurisdiction, he would always try to work with companies in a friendly manner. As he put it, “the longer they stay in business, the longer we stay in business.”
To that end, when companies needed a permit, he and his colleagues would work with them closely to make sure they dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.
First, most regulators do offer guidance manuals, or letters of interpretation, that simplify the actual technical regulations (which are Greek to most people) into plain language. It’s like an outline of exactly what you need to worry about to stay in compliance.
But this might not be enough, in which case Anthony would always take the next step, which was to explain directly to the applicant all the information that was needed to issue the permit, even going over the permit application with the applicant from start to finish by phone or in person.
He would also show them how to fill out the monitoring reports required by the permits and explain clearly what they would be required to do to fulfill the permit conditions. This enabled the new permittee to clearly understand what their responsibilities were to maintain their facility in full compliance with the PVSC Rules & Regulations. This effort also clearly demonstrated to the permittee that the regulator is interested in helping them achieve and remain in full compliance.
All this was done in a friendly and helpful manner. I must say that not all regulators work this way. Some simply review permit applications when they come in, without any previous interaction with the applying company, and then either approve or reject it. That’s frustrating for both sides.
I think Anthony’s approach of working with the applicant throughout the process is much more effective.
This was especially the case when a small business would interact with his department. Small businesses made up the bulk of the companies applying for permits. You see, larger companies usually have personnel assigned to environmental, health and safety issues. But that is not necessarily the case for a mom-and-pop operation, where the language of environmental regulations can be quite confusing. Having a regulator explaining what is required of them – and offering guidance along the way – can make all the difference. Anthony would even review “first drafts” of permit applications and offer feedback before they would finalize the document.
When Consultants Go Bad
Companies should feel free to initiate a relationship like this with their regulators. And they should do so before contacting an environmental consultant for help. Yes, there are plenty of cases where a consultant is called for. But often a simple call to your regulatory body is all that is needed.
Unfortunately, some consultants are happy to take on these simple projects and take advantage of small businesses that don’t understand the regulations. These small businesses can spend a lot of money on consulting fees that they should not have to.
That said, a good environmental consultant can do wonders. In our case, we have good relationships with regulators that we interact with on behalf of our clients. And we make it a point to keep them informed on what’s going on with our clients for all the reasons I’ve written about in this article.
We keep the channels of communication open because once they’re closed…it’s hard to open them back up again.
Why Regulators Aren’t Scary
Many businesses get a call that a regulator is coming to visit… and they panic. That’s even if they are in full compliance. It’s a gut reaction. But there’s no need to react in this fashion.
As Anthony put it, regulators are not there to put you out of business. They are there to help. They want you to succeed. But they want business operations done legally and properly.
Even if there is a violation, sometimes there can be wiggle room… if you have a good relationship with a regulator. To be clear, I’m not talking about someone looking the other way when an issue is identified.
In the case of a violation, there can be completely legal ways to reduce a fine if the company makes the required changes and gets into compliance.
What Not to Do
The biggest mistake companies can make is ignoring regulators or having an adversarial relationship.
In some cases, that might mean fighting the regulator on what they’re asking for. In other cases, companies who feel like they are being hassled by regulators will complain to their elected official because they feel like they are being unfairly targeted.
If that call from a councilman or senator comes in, the regulator will simply explain the relevant regulations and compliance issues. And that elected official will pass that on to the company.
That conversation should have been had directly between applicant/violator and the regulator. And that conversation should happen as soon as possible. When a company gets a letter or a call from a regulator, they shouldn’t put off replying.
Let me be clear that the reason a regulator wants to be helpful is they want regulations to be followed. They are eager to avoid environmental issues in the community. But it’s also in their best interest.
Governmental bodies and public interest groups conduct audits on a regular basis on regulators, where they review permits, applications, violations, close-out letters, and the like to make sure everything is in order.
In the case of a governmental body finding issues, they will write up that regulator.
A public interest group will file a lawsuit against the regulator and the company involved. Nobody wants that.
And the best way to prevent it is by having a good relationship between the company and the regulator. That doesn’t mean everything will always go smoothly. But you will save money, hassle, and headaches in the long run.
At Envision Environmental, Inc., we’re happy to help you form good working relationships with regulators. That’s something we strive todo with every client.
Just call me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or get in touch via e-mail at email@example.com and let’s start building a good relationship with your regulators.