Environment New Hampshire
The Union Leader
Gary Rayno

CONCORD — Repealing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would hurt the state's economy, its environment and residents' health, opponents of the repeal said Tuesday.

Unlike a year ago, when repealing the emissions cap and trade program drew several hundred people, only about 50 attended the public hearing on House Bill 1490 Tuesday, almost all opposed to the repeal.

Last year the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to repeal the state's participation in the 10-state carbon emissions reduction initiative, but the Senate instead modified the program. The two sides couldn't agree and the bill died only to be resurrected, approved and vetoed, but the Senate failed to override the veto.

Opponents of repeal say the program works, providing $34 million for energy conservation and efficiency projects while reducing air pollution.

“This Legislature seems to think it's more important whether children stand for the Pledge of Allegiance rather than if they can breath clean air,” said Ian Raymond, the chair of the Sanbornton energy committee.

But opponents say RGGI raises electric rates and is an income redistribution ploy rewarding some of the state's most successful businesses.

The bill does have the backing of the House leadership, as Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, signed on in favor.

HB 1490 would repeal RGGI beginning Jan. 1, 2015, when the program's second compliance period ends. Under the bill, the state's emissions cap would be lowered by 2.5 percent from 8.6 million tons a year to 8.4 million, and generators exceeding their historic emissions limits would be fined rather than required to purchase allowances for additional emissions.

The bill would give the five fossil-fuel generating plants the allowances they need to emit their historic levels of carbon dioxide, meaning much of the money generated by the program would no longer be available.

The weak economy and low cost of natural gas have reduced the region's emissions to below the regional cap for the past several years, which reduces the value of the allowances generators would have to buy.

Last year, the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee voted overwhelmingly to repeal RGGI. Committee chair, Rep. James Garrity, R-Atkinson, said Tuesday this year's proposal tries to change the program so it is more neutral to ratepayers.

After several speakers opposed the bill, he asked those testifying if they could support the bill if the repeal provision was removed, and some said they could but most said they would need to review the other provisions.

Jane Doherty of Goffstown served on a working group for the Public Utilities Commission to design energy efficiency programs and opposed the bill.

“Our membership in RGGI is a good bargain for us Yankees,” she told the committee. “This program saves real dollars. The bottom line is it makes us less dependent on foreign oil.”

Others suggested the bill has created jobs, particularly through making residences more energy efficient, and helped improve the state's economy.

“With the passage of RGGI, New Hampshire became a national clean energy leader,” noted Jessica O'Hare, advocate for the statewide environmental group, Environment New Hampshire. “RGGI is good for New Hampshire's environment, creating jobs, and saving local residents and businesses money on their utility bill—a triple win for Granite Staters.”

Others said the state could withdraw from the program but consumers would still be paying the costs of RGGI because the costs are embedded in the wholesale price of electricity on the New England power grid. “We are not an island,” said Mike Fitzgerald, of the Division of Air Resources. He said New Hampshire's economy is better off because of the program, which benefits all state users.

Paul Hibbard of the Analysis Group, did an economic study of the program's effect in the Northeast. He said the program has reduced electric costs for the region, generating more than $1 billion in savings and creating thousands of jobs.

John Mann, Alstead energy committee member, criticized the attempt to repeal the program as driven by national organizations.

He said cap and trade is 10 times more effective at reducing carbon dioxide pollution than other methods. He said the state cannot wait 30 years to begin addressing pollution.

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.