Anatomy of a Regulatory Success

A small group of metalcasters achieved big reform in Michigan thanks to government outreach and combining efforts with other common-goaled industries.

Mike Lenahan, Fairmount Santrol, Benton Harbor, Michigan

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Leg work has always been important when it comes to legislation. Each year, many from the metalcasting industry make a pilgrimage of sorts to the AFS Government Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. Any multi-year veteran of this conference will say it’s an emotional roller coaster every single year. Are they making a difference by attending? Those who do once or twice may not see any impact whatsoever, nor believe in its value.  However, most of “the regulars” will tell you that, over time, attendees have been able to make a difference.  Elected officials start to recognize members of the industry, and their staffers start to understand the industry better. Every once in a while, it is discovered a member of senior staff has a metalcasting connection.  Only through extended dialogue and repetition can these types of things be learned, usually making for a much more personal discussion.      

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released a risk assessment concluding that silica-based spent foundry sands from iron, steel and aluminum metalcasting facilities, when used in certain soil-related activities, are protective of human health and the environment and yield environmental benefits. This was a big win in implementing more beneficial use projects for spent foundry sands.

The risk assessment marked a significant milestone for the metalcasting industry relative to efforts to gain acceptance of recycled foundry sand in the marketplace. The assessment, plus years of outreach efforts to state and local officials, helped the metalcasting industry in Michigan successfully achieve rewritten beneficial use rules in that state.

While the risk assessment was the centerpiece of this success story and the crux of the industry’s case for expanding reuse, the relationships cultivated over many years were paramount to being heard.  While the Michigan metalcasting industry was organized, the years of leg work prior to taking on this challenge that provided a solid foundation for eventual success. 

Uphill Battle

In 2000, Michigan seemed like a state where working with metalcasting facilities on broadening recycling use to include more manufactured byproducts like spent sand was not going to happen. The state was conservative in its approach, and the rules for beneficial use at the time were ineffective. They had unrealistic criteria, required extensive notification, recordkeeping, performance testing and petitions, and past regulatory efforts did not focus on clarifying legal protections for beneficial use. Even some native soils would not have met the criteria of the original rules.

Compared to neighboring states Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, Michigan’s beneficial rule left limited opportunity for reuse. It prevented low-risk materials from being reused, stored or disposed of at lower costs, added layers of regulation and called for costly and extensive testing and retesting. Changing the rule would be an uphill battle but necessary for metalcasting facilities looking to avoid placing large quantities of safe sand in landfills.

Organizers in the state knew in order to achieve reform, a comprehensive rule was needed that encouraged the reuse of materials, reduced disposal and material costs, extended landfill capacity and conserved resources. To show this effort was about more than just saving money, government officials needed to know more about who and what the metalcasting industry was.

Several groups in Michigan came together to lay the groundwork for reform, including the Foundry Association of Michigan, Michigan Chemistry Council, Michigan Manufacturers Association, the pulp and paper industry, utilities, and other state metalcasting groups from Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana. These other manufacturing contacts, energy producers, paper mills and industries producing recyclable materials still being landfilled all played a role in getting the new rule under the governor’s pen. While these connections seemed relatively unimportant initially, their value was immeasurable once the groups were joined in a common cause to increase industrial byproduct recycling in Michigan. 

Cultivating key relationships with elected officials also played a role in eventual success.  Inviting them to plants to show what metalcasters did and how they did it, sometimes many years before this legislation was proposed, was incredibly valuable.  Several of the elected officials who voted on whether the beneficial use bill made it out of committee had been visitors to metalcasting facilities. Interestingly, many of the elected officials actually recognized the metalcasting representatives and called them by name when testifying on behalf of this new rule. 

The Payoff

Eventually, Michigan pulled together a commission to look at the beneficial use rules. The industry groups had been clamoring for change for years, citing other states that were more progressive in encouraging plants to recycle their byproducts. Because of the vocal, visible contingent, the metalcasting industry was invited to testify at various hearings on the subject.

The hearings culminated in the introduction of House Bills 5400-5402 in March 2014 to amend a portion of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to promote beneficial use in Michigan. In the bills, beneficial use byproducts included:

Metalcasting sand.

Coal/wood ash.

Pulp and paper mill residuals.

Cement/lime kiln dusts.

Spend sand blast media.

During testimony to support the bills, metalcasting representatives had two key persuasive points: the success of neighboring states in beneficial use reform and the newly completed EPA risk assessment that provided a comprehensive independent study that concluded using recycled metalcasting sand in soil applications was safe and environmentally beneficial. Based on studies conducted by the USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and the application of highly conservative screening techniques and risk screening models, this document concluded no evidence existed that specified uses of metalcasting sand posed significant risks to human health or the environment. Further, the concentrations of metals in the metalcasting sand are similar to those found in native soils in the U.S. and Canada.

On September 16, 2014, Governor Rick Snyder signed into state law House Bill 5400—Michigan’s Beneficial Use Public Act.

Eighty percent of U.S. metalcasting facilities employ fewer than 100 individuals. When you are that small, it can be difficult to gain traction in any setting. In the case of Michigan’s beneficial use reform, as metalcasting members bound together with their other industry brethren, two things became obvious. First, by adding other industry recycling interests, they had gained critical mass relative to the positive economic impact that recycling could bring to a greater variety of manufacturers.  Second, the EPA/USDA Foundry Sand Risk Assessment was the envy of industry counterparts. This will be a critical element for other local groups looking to improve or create sound beneficial use rules.

Combining it with a foundation of relationships built outside of the metalcasting industry bubble with other trade associations, industries and elected officials, will put metalcasters in a stronger position to reach goals in their state.