The following editorial appeared in the March 18 issue of Waste & Recycling News.
BALTIMORE - The days of issuing a press release, taking the mayor to lunch and calling it a day are over when it comes to seeking approval for landfill gas-to-energy projects.
Developers need to think beyond the traditional public relations and lobbying efforts to see their projects win approval, according to Darden H. Copeland, managing partner of Calvert Street Group.
Copeland and his company have advised on more than 200 land use projects over the years, including many in the solid waste field.
"One thing I've learned in all of these campaigns is something that was actually taught to us 2,000 years ago," he said at the recent Landfill Methane Outreach Program Conference & Project Expo in Baltimore.
"If you don't find politics, politics will find you," he said, roughly quoting Greek leader Pericles.
And that can be said for local efforts to site solid waste projects such as landfill gas-to-energy systems.
"What you all do, the types of projects that you are all working on, that you are trying to permit, those are local political decisions. All politics are local, but all land use and all permitting issues are political as well. They have local ramifications, local benefits." he said.
"Developers need to establish a more sophisticated strategy that includes building local support long before a vote is taken and realizing that opposition can come from many different angles."
-- Darden H. Copeland, Managing Partner.
"I think it's important to know your opposition. I think it's incredibly important. It helps you set your strategy," Copeland said.
A successful project should be run like a political campaign where different people have different duties, including designating who is going to engage the press and who is going to work with local citizens.
Developers also need to have a clear understanding about the process involved in determining the fate of a project, including exactly who makes the decision.
"What is the process on the local level? Because, if you don't understand that, you're going to be walking into these things blindfolded," he told LMOP attendees.
"We really believe strongly in doing political due diligence because there are so many moving parts. And at the end of the day, PR and traditional lobbying is really dead if you don't have an understanding of the local political landscape and the opposition out there. You may be dead in the water regardless of how your city council member or your city manager feels about the project," he said.
Building a coalition of local citizens and leaders who support a project goes a long way to creating credibility in the public's eyes. Those folks can validate the need for a project and can be viewed as trusted local sources, Darden said.
"You need to build a coalition, just like you would on a political campaign, " Darden said, including business leaders, environmentalists, business people and folks who live near the project. People benefiting directly from the project, such as employees, also can be valuable in helping sway public opinion.
"You need to sit down and educate them in the process and let them be part of your application. Let them bye the mouthpiece, the validator for you all as you take the project forward so it's not just you," he said.