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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although a single convenience store is a small business, the voice of the c-store industry isn't too small for U.S. lawmakers to hear. That much became very clear yesterday during CSNews Online's visit to Capitol Hill as part of NACS' media briefing day for trade reporters. Throughout the day, several Congressmen and Senators sat down to discuss a number of key issues facing the industry and the nation as a whole.
After a Monday evening briefing from NACS political pollster Jim Ellis, who shared his perspective on this fall's elections, CSNews headed to Capitol Hill to meet with Rep. Terry Lee (R-Neb.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who is in the process of developing a comprehensive national fuels policy proposal.
Terry voiced his support for diversity of fuel portfolios and said he's given a great deal of thought to how much fuel the United States imports from non-North American sources, and how much those imports can be offset by domestic supplies. The key is to focus on supply, the Congressman concluded, adding that natural gas is the biggest play moving forward.
Natural gas is so abundant that there is a glut of supply, making it more important to find more uses for this fuel, Terry said. He predicts that the U.S. could completely offset all fuel imports in a relatively short five to 10 years, and expects the conversion to natural gas to start with heavy trucks before ultimately reaching the passenger vehicle market. Ultimately, consumers want convenience, and they'll own natural gas vehicles if it's easy to do so, according to Terry.
The movement toward natural gas reflects the state of change that the nation is in.
Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Kentucky), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee who plans to retire at the end of this Congressional session, said it's been more than 100 years since the country has been in its current position, with entire institutions in flux and rapid changes in technology occurring all the time.
Even with such constant change in the air, it can be difficult to get things done, Davis acknowledged. Redundancy in programs and issues with data standardization cause hiccups, as does voters' current lack of trust in their elected officials. But vocal engagement with the legislative process remains important, he said, noting that real change comes from a culture of continuous improvement.
Rep. Danny Davis (D-Illinois) agrees that engagement is key. An individual who has one idea that seems crazy might find others who share the same idea, and work together to accomplish something based on that idea. Davis, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who serves on the Homeland Security and Oversight and Government Reform committees, cited an initiative to reduce the amount of lead in gasoline that started as a long shot, but ultimately saw positive results in terms of health.
Any individual can get involved by joining with likeminded people and being persistent, Davis said, emphasizing that while the process is not perfect, it is still in pursuit of a more perfect union.
Later in the day, CSNews attended the press conference at which Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) and fellow Texas Congressmen Henry Cuellar and Ruben Hinojesa, along with multiple industry representatives, announced a bill to amend the federal menu labeling laws.
If passed, the bill will result in considerable savings for convenience stores and other businesses that would become exempt from the law, something its supporters say is simply common sense.
"When you have a one-size-fits-all, it's hard to make it fit for everyone," said Cuellar.
Closing out the day, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) praised convenience stores as being an important part of communities, naming the Loaf 'N Jug as a favorite c-store chain of his. Convenience stores provide community support and are often a first job for young people, and the government would best serve them by staying out of their way, he said, labeling the government as a bigger threat to small businesses than their competitors would be.
Barrasso echoed that it's important for c-store operators to get involved and talk to others, and that it's time to ask tough questions. He also stated that an energy policy that focuses on energy security should be an important priority, and called for President Obama to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline project immediately.
Overall, it was clear that despite common perception of a distant government, lawmakers still hear and recognize those who have something to say. All the legislators CSNews spoke to voiced their desire to hear from constituents. Whether it's through individual action or via organizations such as NACS, convenience store owners can have an effect on the direction the country takes -- and their businesses may prove to not be so small after all.