WASHINGTON – Green industry professionals from across the country gathered in the nation's capital for a day of service at Arlington National Cemetery and a day of discussion about industry issues on Capitol Hill.
PLANET's annual Renewal & Remembrance and Legislative Day on the Hill events took place July 24-26 and brought more than 400 individuals to Washington. The Irrigation Association and Tree Care Industry Association partnered with PLANET to host this year's event.
Renewal & Remembrance started with a ceremony to recognize the reason for gathering – to honor the men and women who fought for our country. Then the 395 adults and 58 children who participated spent the day – in the sweltering heat – caring for and cabling trees, pruning, liming, mulching, planting and aerating at Arlington National Cemetery. The gift was valued at more than $200,000, and in the 15 years PLANET has hosted the event, more than $2 million has been contributed.
"We are signifying our continued commitment to honor the men and women to whom we owe our liberties and freedom," said Walter Wray, PLANET member and chairman of the event. "By contributing to the environment at this sacred place, we are giving back to the many heroes and their families. Our members consider it a privilege to be able to lend our time and talents to such a worthwhile project."
Nufarm, which has been attending the event since the start and is a sponsor, was represented by 32 people – employees and their families. Nufarm Vice President of Sales Sean Casey said not only does it allow the company to give back, but it allows employees who are based across the country to bond.
"We do it as a team, so it gives the team some bonding time," he said. "This allows them a chance to work together and for one purpose."
For Legislative Day on the Hill, approximately 170 participants attended a breakfast to hear Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and then navigated the Capitol's grounds, meeting with state representatives and senators to discuss the greatest issues affecting the green industry.
Among the big topics of the day: H-2B guest worker program, EPA WaterSense program, H.R. 872 and Reducing the Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 (see Issue Briefing, pg. 26).
Groups spent the day talking with legislators and their staff members from nearly a dozen states.
"Two things are gained when you take time to come down here," said Nancy Sadlon, executive director of the N.J. Green Industry Council, who attended the event for the fifth year and met with a handful of her state politicians. "You actually get to realize that your voice can make a difference and you do have access to your legislators. And there is nothing better than face-to-face communication to explain how a bill or legislation impacts your company or your industry personally."
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Here is a more in-depth look at some of the issues Legislative Day on the Hill participants discussed with their representatives and senators.
PLANET and other associations are concerned about the one-size-fits-all turfgrass restriction and believe it will negatively affect the landscape industry and local environments. While the program is voluntary, PLANET said other governing bodies are adopting it as rule.
PLANET has urged the EPA to support only the water budget language. The congressional authorization of WaterSense has been introduced in the House of Representatives and PLANET has asked legislators to remove the turfgrass restriction from the bill.
H-2B visa program. The Department of Labor ruled companies in the landscaping industry must raise the wage of H-2B workers by $3.60 per hour starting Sept. 30. PLANET contends the cost to employers will actually be much higher than just the wage increase once other associated costs are factored in: labor increases for similarly employed and more experienced American workers, additional payroll costs, workers' compensation insurance and overtime costs.
The H-2B Workforce Coalition estimates the rule will result in annual increases of between $100,000 and $400,000 for businesses that use the program.
A second proposed rule by DOL would make the program more expensive and complicated to use, according to PLANET. The rule would require employers to leave the job open for American workers up to three days before the H-2B worker arrives. There is opposition to the rule because employers have already assisted with the visa process and paid for transportation, housing and other fees, but then may have to turn the H-2B worker away at the last minute if an American worker is found. PLANET has encouraged the DOL to rescind the final wage methodology rule and the proposed rule.
H.R. 872 – Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011. This legislation clarifies that duplicative Clean Water Act permits are not needed for pesticide applications approved by the EPA. The legislation passed the House with bipartisan support in March and PLANET is encouraging the Senate to follow suit.
A court decision will require applicators to have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems Permits (NPDES) for pesticide application to, over or near water beginning Oct. 31.
According to PLANET, the ruling will require a great deal of paperwork and reporting requirements, make the process complicated and costly and create confusion about which applications actually require permits. In the end, it could leave applicators vulnerable to lawsuits.