The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) recently announced the appointment of Chief Executive Officer Kevin McCray, CAE, to the federal Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee (ETTAC).

Under the Commerce Department, the committee’s purpose is to develop recommendations to improve the export competitiveness of U.S. environmental technologies. McCray represents the trade association segment of the environmental technology industry.

While it’s only the beginning of his two-year appointment, he brings nearly three decades of experience with NGWA to the project. National Driller spoke with McCray to learn more about the committee’s goals and how he hopes to contribute.

Q. What areas does the committee focus on?

A. The last group focused on four separate areas, and each came up with a set of recommendations. One of the groups was on trade liberalization, another was on trade promotion and the largest in terms of number of recommendations was the group that dealt with standards, regulations and certifications. The last group, which had the least number of recommendations, was innovations. It’s not 100 percent certain if innovations will be replaced by [environmental] services, or whether services will be an addition. But it’s pretty clear the other three will go forward.

In the past, the groups made recommendations and our point of contact at the Department of Commerce sends them to the appropriate parties to respond. They either acknowledge it and say, “Great idea, we’ll see what we can do with it.” Or they acknowledge it and say, “Here are the barriers to a resolution of the issue you raised.” Often it’s about money — money to hire people, money to effect the desired outcome — or it could be a legislative matter where they don’t have the authority.

Q. What other technologies are represented on the committee?

A. The idea is that it encompasses all environmental technologies. A lot of the emphasis so far has been on the water side, which is obviously great for the National Ground Water Association. Air pollution and abatement of other environmental factors like asbestos or lead would also be a kind of environmental technology that could be covered.

Other players on the committee include the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association, the equipment association that deals with emissions issues with mobile machinery, which of course is an important issue to the drilling community. It’s an issue the National Ground Water Association worked on rule making for with the EPA and Congress in the last couple of years, because of the extreme potential expense to contractors to have to meet emissions standards for heavy equipment.

Other groups like the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) are also participants, and we’re pleased to be there with our sister associations from the water sector. … Although I have to caution that while, yes, I hope my service on the committee will benefit our members, my obligation is to serve the entire environmental sector and not just the groundwater sector.

Q. I know you’re representing the trade association segment. What other groups are you working with?

A. There are multiple trade associations participating. But what’s unique about us, and it’s probably also true about AWWA and WEF, is that we’re not exclusively trade associations, even though we’re organized that way under the IRS designation. We each have a lot of professional consulting firms as members, which is one of the issues that arose at our first meeting.

Commerce recognizes that it’s struggled to understand the environmental services sector, as opposed to the environmental hardware sector. The tangible goods they can get their hands around, but environmental services are more difficult for them to understand. It’s been difficult to figure out the best way to promote their expertise outside the United States as an export.

In our first meeting, we broke into small groups, and one of them was for services. I sat in on that, because we represent several hundred consulting firms among our membership. We wanted to hear what the issues were and be part of that dialogue.

Q. You point out that environmental technology is more than just products, but also expertise. What are the challenges of exporting that expertise?

A. I’m not an expert, but it appears these projects and bid calls require a lot of upfront effort from whoever attempts to respond. It could be so onerous that firms just opt out of it on the front end. My guess is, people are hoping the government can help the sector respond more accurately, more thoroughly, and more timely than it has in the past to the complexity and breadth of these things.

Giant multinational consulting firms, they’re probably in pretty good shape. But there are obviously lots of other firms that could either be subcontractors to them, or even take on projects on their own if not for perceived obstacles. Commerce is trying to figure out what those obstacles may be, and then see if there’s a way to help firms navigate a clear pathway, regardless of the business size.

We’re trying to figure out the best message the federal government can convey to U.S. producers to compete as effectively as any other country. Again, let me qualify that I’m not speaking as the committee. I’m just speaking as a very new member.

Q. What are the biggest opportunities you see for increasing exports of U.S. environmental technologies?

A. We reached out to some of our members to identify some issues, and we’ve tried to categorize them in a way that might fit in with the ETTAC effort. One of those is gaps in data, in terms of being able to quantify market potential in certain foreign markets.

Something that was raised by another committee member that I totally agree with is that it would be great if the federal government can find a way to turn current industrial reports back on. They turned those off under budget constraints in 2010.

For the National Ground Water Association, it’s very difficult to quantify the market for people who want to know more about it, like Congress or the news media, if we can’t report from a respected third-party source. For example, the number of drilling machines that have been produced and what portion of those were sent to export, as well as domestic water systems and pumps, three categories that we were actively monitoring. It’s become very difficult for us to have a sense of what the scale of our industry is other than what we know through state drilling activity reports. But that doesn’t tell us anything of what portion of that is product going overseas.

We have a few very large firms in our sector, but we also have a lot of smaller and midsize firms that could compete on foreign opportunities if they knew more about what’s involved. That’s what Commerce is trying to identify.

Q. Where do you see yourself having the biggest impact on the committee?

A. What I often do is remind people that there’s a lot of water that nobody sees until it comes out of the tap, and that’s groundwater. Oftentimes, that seems to be forgotten. So a big part of what we do as an association, and what I do as its chief spokesperson, is to remind folks about groundwater and how it plays into not only our domestic economic outlook, but increasingly in the economic outlook of developing countries and elsewhere.

You know, we can’t provide it if we don’t have it. Protecting it from contamination or overuse, being judicial in our utilization of the resource over the long term — that provides for a more sustainable market and a longer business cycle. So that’s what we’re trying to help do.

Q. How do you think U.S. companies can be more competitive on the global market?

A. One, they’ve got to decide if they really want to be in the global market. If they do, then they have to be prepared to understand what it takes. It’s going to be different from everything you do domestically. Everything from language barriers to tariff rules and import rules, processes, paperwork and materials compliance. It’s going to be more complex.

To some people, those are barriers they just don’t want to try to climb over. To others, they’re willing to do so, but they’d like the assistance of the national government to help them do it. That’s what we’re all trying to accomplish.