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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Future bleak for NH’s part in cap-trade

CONCORD – New Hampshire appears to be on its way out of the nation’s first government program designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Spurred by legislative skepticism about global warming and cost to utility ratepayers, the Republican-led Legislature took a big step Wednesday toward leaving the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The House vote of 246-104 sends the bill to the House Finance Committee for its review.

Opponents of RGGI said it is based on uncertain science about climate change and it taxes all electricity users in order to distribute energy efficiency grants to a chosen few customers.

Rep. James Garrity, R-Atkinson, said special interests profiting from RGGI are panicked that the state would withdraw from this program it entered three years ago.

“The argument was we must join RGGI or the planet will dry up,” Garrity said of the debate in 2008 when Democrats controlled the Legislature. “The argument we have heard: ‘We can’t lose RGGI or the money will dry up.’ RGGI was never about the climate; it has always been about the money.”

Rep. Naida Kaen, D-Durham, said House GOP leaders are ramming through this repeal without accounting for the job growth and energy savings that have come with RGGI.

“Is somebody holding a gun to our heads? Forcing us to jump off a cliff? Because that’s what we are doing, jumping off a cliff without knowing what the consequences are,” Kaen warned.

In 2008, New Hampshire became the last of 10 Northeastern states to sign onto RGGI. The program makes power companies buy allowances for the right to emit carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels. They can trade the allowances after they buy them, and the program caps the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by state utilities.

Advocates say this form of cap and trade encourages businesses to reduce emissions, changing New Hampshire’s status as one of the top five states in consumption of oil per capita.

If the Legislative super-majority vote holds, it can overcome a potential veto of the bill by Gov. John Lynch, who led the campaign for New Hampshire’s involvement in RGGI. Lynch has yet to issue that veto threat.

Lynch says that since the program began, the state has paid out $11 million in higher electric rates but gotten $28 million worth of energy efficiency benefits and 1,130 jobs as a result.

For his part, Garrity called RGGI a “stealth tax” that divvies grants only to the most vocal or politically connected interests in the state.

“RGGI rests on shaky economic science that the government should collect some money from all of us to redistribute that wealth to a few of us,” Garrity said.

Public Service of New Hampshire owns three of the five power plants affected by RGGI. The amended bill does not allow PSNH to recover allowances it has purchased for future years. Garrity said PSNH can try to sell those future allowances on the secondary market.

Americans for Prosperity, an conservative group with financial support from the oil industry, made automated robocalls over the long holiday weekend, attacking RGGI as guaranteeing further increases in electricity bills.

Studies had concluded that RGGI has added 6.5 cents per month to an average consumer’s bill.

Rep. Sandra Keans, D-Rochester, attacked AFP’s calls as “sleazy” and deliberately false.

“I have never seen such a cowardly perpetration pulled on the citizens of New Hampshire,” Keans said.

AFP Executive Director Corey Lewandowski defended the group’s lobbying against RGGI.

“Constituents should be able to call their elected officials to register a concern. Nobody forces people to run for office if they don’t want to hear from those who elected them,” Lewandowski said. “We’re delighted by the strong House vote for consumers.”

Rep. Beatriz Pastor, D-Lyme, said that even if there were questions about climate change science, it’s wise for the state to take preventive measures like RGGI.

“Noah got intelligence (that) a natural disaster was about to occur,” Pastor said of the Bibilical account. “He could have looked out the window and said ‘it doesn’t look like it is going to rain’.”

But Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper of Hudson disagreed.

“Neither man nor cow is responsible for global warming,” he added.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.