This week I am thinking about the use and misuse of terms such as “stakeholder” in legislative proceedings. Often, a legislator will ask “are the stakeholders on board?”. A typical answer is yes, the agency and the affected interest group are on board. The alternative question is “is this an agreed to bill” and the answer is yes, the agency and the affected interest group are in agreement. But there are very few bills that only have two stakeholders. Stakeholders left out of the process include the public, other interest groups, other agencies or local governments, and on and on.
Our readers are not surprised to read this. This is how the legislature often operates.
Bear with me while I tell the story of one bill.
Senate Bill 601 began as a gift to the oil and gas industry, permitting specialized landfills for fracking waste. They would not need to go through either local solid waste authorities or the Public Service Commission. The DEP would have the authority over these landfills. Given that citizens in the gas patch-also known as Frackistan-have little reason to trust that DEP has their best interests at heart, this is a scary proposition. I had a long talk with Sen. Boso, the sponsor, reviewing all the things wrong with the bill. Then we heard the bill would not be taken up. Then suddenly it appeared in a committee. It was hardly recognizable, having morphed into a bill that only encouraged mixed waste recycling facilities. The PSC was not going to have any oversight. The stakeholders in this version appear to be legislative leadership and the DEP. Waste Management is reportedly not happy. Apparently they don’t count as a stakeholder, even though 601 would cut into their business. The simple 601 passed the Senate and is now in House Judiciary.
Yesterday, yet another version of 601 showed up. A firm based in Ohio wants the same sweet deal that mixed waste recycling facilities get. This company processes the brine from fracking. Again, apparently citizens and citizen groups don’t count as stakeholders because no one knew this was coming. But everyone knew the industry was wanted something.
So here we are, late in the session trying to stop a bill from becoming a gift to the oil and gas industry. And here we are learning that more and more actual stakeholder groups are left out of the process. Stakeholders are those with the power to make their wishes come true, not the people and entities that live with the consequences.