NH Senators preserve role in carbon pactConcord Monitor – May 6, 2011
House wanted to leave RGGIBy Matthew Spolar
A Senate committee has rejected a House bill pulling New Hampshire out of a regional cap-and-trade emissions program.
Yesterday's 3-2 vote of "inexpedient to legislate" turns back a House proposal to end New Hampshire's involvement in the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 10 percent by 2018.
RGGI caps states' carbon emissions, and utilities purchase carbon credits at a per-ton price. The utilities that reduce their emissions can sell their excess credits. At least a quarter of the revenue to the state must be used to pay for energy-efficiency projects, such as weatherizing homes and businesses.
Speaker William O'Brien has called RGGI "a backdoor tax increase on the citizens of New Hampshire" that leads to higher electricity rates. The bill to leave the program has seen strong opposition from environmental groups and Gov. John Lynch, who argues rates would not go down while New Hampshire would see none of the program's benefits.
Bob Odell, a Lempster Republican; Amanda Merrill, a Durham Democrat; and Gary Lambert, a Nashua Republican, voted against the bill. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, and John Gallus, a Berlin Republican, voted in favor of pulling the state out of the program.
Jim O'Brien, president of Conservation New Hampshire, said he was surprised and pleased by the committee's vote. Now, however, O'Brien said his attention is turned to an amendment that may be introduced by Bradley on the Senate floor to reform the program but not repeal it.
Bradley's amendment would set a cap at $1 for the price charged to utilities per ton of carbon. The current price is at the $1.86 minimum thanks to a sluggish economy, he said, but the cap is set at $9, meaning more costs could be downshifted to ratepayers if the per-ton price increases in the future.
The amendment would also put the money collected for energy-efficiency projects directly into a fund operated by the utilities. The state Public Utilities Commission currently awards project money to applicants, and Bradley feels the process should be handled by the private sector.
"It's not the first choice of the environmental groups," O'Brien said of Bradley's amendment, of which Lynch has said he is supportive. "But I think it's a compromise that most organizations could live with."
Bradley's amendment was not ready for a vote by the committee yesterday. O'Brien said he would have preferred the committee had been able to approve Bradley's amendment, making it less likely that the possibility of repeal would return to the Senate floor.
"It would have indicated a clearer path," O'Brien said. "Part of what happened today leads to the
question of what the end game's going to be."
(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)