Negotiators reach RGGI deal

Last modified: 5/26/2012 12:00:00 AM
Republican leaders in the House and Senate have struck a deal on what to do with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and it doesn't involve withdrawing New Hampshire from the program.

Last year, House leaders walked away from negotiations with the Senate after refusing to accept anything but a complete withdrawal from the carbon cap-and-trade program. The Senate doesn't have the 16 votes needed from its 24 members to override a promised veto of repeal by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

Rep. Jim Garrity of Atkinson, the leader of the House negotiating team, acknowledged yesterday he wasn't going to get everything he wanted by accepting the Senate's bill to reform the program and reduce its impact in the state.

'As you know by history, the House prefers a definite repeal date, but we can count to 16,' Garrity said. 'We can live with the Senate version because it does help ratepayers.'

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a multi-state compact designed to cut participants' carbon emissions 10 percent by 2018. Republicans argue the RGGI program acts as a built-in tax on power producers that is passed down to consumers. A state report found RGGI adds 46 cents to the average homeowner's monthly electric bill.

The Senate version of the bill takes state revenue from auctioning off carbon allowances to power plants - money currently distributed by the state Public Utilities Commission as grants for energy efficiency projects - and puts it into an energy efficiency fund controlled by utility companies. The bill also lowers the rebate threshold on auction proceeds so money that would have been spent by companies to purchase carbon allowances is used to slightly reduce rates for customers.

Though the Senate version does not have the outright repeal provision desired by the House, it does provide a mechanism for New Hampshire to leave the program if it is preceded by the withdrawal of two other New England states, or one state carrying 10 percent of the energy load between the New England states participating in the program.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, the Wolfeboro Republican who led the Senate's negotiating effort, had raised concerns in the past that the Public Utilities Commission was handing out politically motivated energy efficiency grants to companies and institutions that didn't need them.

'We're going to continue to do energy efficiency through RGGI, but we're going to really benefit programs that get the best bang for their dollar,' Bradley said of putting the money into the utility-run fund.

Advocates of the program weren't cheering the RGGI deal. Cathy Corkery, chapter director of the New Hampshire Sierra Club, said 'this medal, this badge, that Garrity is trying wear that he's reducing rates is a joke.'

'The way that they have manipulated this program and this amendment will make the program less effective, less innovative and it will apply to a smaller pool of people,' Corkery said.

Jessica O'Hare, spokeswoman for Environment New Hampshire, said the compromise bill cuts funding for energy efficiency projects in half.

'We are very disappointed that powerful out-of-state fossil fuel interest convinced our many of our legislators to significantly weaken a program that is working,' O'Hare said.

Lynch had vetoed last year's effort to withdraw New Hampshire from RGGI and has maintained his opposition to such efforts. But it's unclear what he'll do with the bill agreed to yesterday.

'The governor believes it is important that New Hampshire remains in the RGGI program and this bill does that,' Colin Manning, Lynch's spokesman, said yesterday. 'It also makes a number of changes, and the Governor is going to review those changes.'

Corey Lewandowski, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a national conservative group opposed to RGGI, expressed disappointment that the compromise bill does not include a repeal date.

'At the end of the day, we're still stuck in a failed cap-and-trade program,' Lewandowski said. 'The people of New Hampshire should not be beholden to any other state or and other Legislature to do what's best for them.'

Lewandowski said now the question is whether the full House will be able to pass a bill that reforms the program instead of repealing it.

'I just don't know that they can get that through the House, and if they don't we'll be sitting back here in the same place we were last time,' he said.

Garrity said the compromise bill has the blessing of House leaders.

'They basically told me: 'Do what you need to do,' ' he said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @mattspolar.)


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