Last month we began our interview with William J. Saas, an entrepreneur born into the finishing industry and former owner of Taskem Inc. Saas served as a director for the National Association of Surface Finishing and is a past president of the Surface Finishing Industry Council and the Metal Finishing Suppliers’ Association, two of the forerunners of NASF. Saas also chaired NASF’s Government Advisory Committee. In October, we recounted Saas’ start in government relations. In this installment, he shares his insights on lobbying for the industry—now and then.
How are government relations different today than when you first started?
W.S. First, the landscape has changed in that there is not the continuity of personnel within the regulatory agencies that existed in the past. Administrators of agencies like EPA and OSHA remained in place longer in the past, which gave us the chance to meet them and earn their respect.
By comparison, Lisa Jackson, the current EPA administrator, has had very little interaction with the metal finishing industry. As a result, one of industry’s main goals has to be to get to know her and to earn her respect.
Have regulatory issues changed on a global level, too?
W.S. Yes. A second change in the landscape is that foreign countries are having more and more impact on the U.S. regulatory agencies. Limits are set in both Europe and Asia that affect regulations and standards we must meet in the U.S.
For most of my lifetime, the U.S. set the standards for the world. Right now, we’re more reactive than proactive when it comes to setting standards. Additionally, many of the regulations from Europe that affect us are based on bad science and a lack of understanding of the real dangers associated with many chemical compounds that are used in the metal finishing industry.
Do you think the metal finishing industry tells its story effectively to regulators and Congress?
W.S. Not as well as it did in the past. I attribute this to the drop off in attendance of job shop owners and senior managers at the Washington Forum.
The Washington Forum is a multi-day event that does an outstanding job updating attendees on the current overall political and environmental climate. However, this is a different focus than in the past where the meeting was intended to prepare attendees so they could make meaningful visits to Congress to discuss issues of critical importance to our industry.
As many as 125 people would attend the prep sessions and then stay to visit Congress the following day. Now we’re lucky if we get 50 or 60 folks that make the Congressional visits. In other words, there are 60% fewer folks reinforcing the importance of metal finishing to Congress and the regulatory agencies.
Are there issues you see gaining importance in the near future?
W.S. Energy usage will become even more important in the near future. Also, we need to intensify efforts to ensure realistic limits are set for the common nickel compounds that are used for plating.
The limits the EU has set are unrealistically low, plus nickel is all but barred from use in some European countries. Both these factors have an impact on U.S. regulations and on our ability to meet the requirements of European customers.
Finally, the REACH requirements will affect both suppliers and applicators in the U.S., though their full impact won’t be felt for several years.
A question as you retire: If you had to do it all over again, would you get into metal finishing?
W.S. Definitely! And for a variety of reasons. It’s a good industry full of good people.
Also, it’s a necessary technology: Without correctly applied plated coatings, many things simply don’t function properly or last as long as they should.