We must enforce SB 365

The date is July 3, 2019. A couple in their late 50s is sitting at the kitchen table, looking out at nearly $2 million of parked logging equipment and trucks in the yard.

The man sighs, “Well, this is it.”

His wife gently clasps his hand. “Can’t you wait ’til the end of the Fourth to tell them? Let’s give them to the end of the month.”

“Can’t,” he replies, gently squeezing her hand. They both stare at the equipment in silence, tears welling in their eyes. Soon the pickups will roll in and he will walk out to the garage, meet the men and let them know they are permanently laid off. Some of them have worked for him for 30 years. They are like family.

To the reader, this scenario is something with which we can all empathize. We observe family businesses in our small towns that close down. We dread the news about struggling farmers and fishermen. But this is different. This isn’t just one logging family that will lose their business. A couple of hundred logging companies spanning the entire state of New Hampshire from Hollis to Pittsburg are at risk when five independent power plants shut down permanently, due to Eversources’ refusal to follow the enactment of SB 365. Thousands of jobs will be lost, for those in the plants, to the men and women who work in the woods, to the folks who sell heavy equipment, fuel, tires and more. Across New Hampshire, local communities and businesses will lose millions in revenue. Social costs will soar.

This is not fake news or the fearmongering we hear daily on the cable news. This is reality. It nearly happened last year when Gov. Chris Sununu, in an unconscionable moment of callousness, vetoed SB 365 that was designed to assist the independent biomass plants and the regional forest products industry for three years. Within days of his veto, three of the biomass plants stopped purchasing wood. The effect was devastating. With the stroke of his pen, 500 tractor-trailer loads of biomass chips produced per week had no place to go.

The principles of supply and demand kicked in. The remaining plants were soon full to the brim and the price for delivered wood tanked. And then in September, the forest community rejoiced when SB 365 became law following the powerful bipartisan override of the governor’s veto. With confidence of due process, the biomass plants started purchasing wood and relit the fires in anticipation of the commencement of SB 365 by Feb. 1.

It never happened. To this day, the highly versed, well-paid communications directors and lawyers of Eversource continue to play their shell game to stall the signing of the contracts with the plants. All, with no consequence to Eversource for breaking the law. For the politicians who voted to override the veto of SB 365, it appears your vote didn’t matter. The entire New Hampshire forest industry now waits, on edge, as wholesale prices drop with the onset of warm weather. With no contracts in place, biomass plants are starting to shut down, possibly until next winter. Logging companies depend on weekly cash flow and cannot afford to postpone operations until next winter to move their forest products.

It is time for this law to be enforced. More than 1 million tons of low-grade wood and the long-term management of our forests of New Hampshire hangs in the balance.

The out-of-state paper mills are too far away and cannot compensate for transportation costs. Should a monopoly and an apathetic governor be allowed to shatter an entire industry?

Everyone who cares about our forests, the beauty of our state, the long term forest health and heritage of our rural economy of New Hampshire should be outraged. It is time to enforce SB 365. It is the law.

Hunter Carbee is a licensed forester from Greenfield.