Lawmakers declaw RGGI

Last modified: 5/3/2012 12:00:00 AM
New Hampshire wouldn't withdraw from a multi-state cap-and-trade compact under a reform bill passed yesterday by the Senate, but advocates say the move weakens a program that is succeeding in promoting clean energy.

For the second year in a row, the House passed a bill seeking to remove New Hampshire from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley offered up the same amendment as last year that continues the program but changes the way it operates in the state.

'We are in deja vu,' Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said before the Senate voted 18-6 to pass the bill as amended.

The Senate amendment takes state revenue earned by auctioning off carbon allowances to power plants - money that is currently distributed as grant funding for energy efficiency projects by the state Public Utilities Commission - and puts it into an energy efficiency fund controlled by utility companies, Bradley said. 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.

The goal of RGGI, which Gov. John Lynch signed into law in 2008, is to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent by 2018. Environmental activists criticized yesterday's Senate vote.

'We are disappointed that some of our senators voted to weaken our cornerstone clean energy program,' said Jessica O'Hare, a spokesman for Environment New Hampshire. 'RGGI is helping to lower our energy bills, improve our energy independence, and reduce pollution. This bill effectively slashes our energy efficiency funding in half.'

Sen. Amanda Merrill, a Durham Democrat, said the amendment would 'sacrifice what is a robust grant program for extremely limited ratepayer relief,' about a 20-cent reduction to the average homeowner's monthly bill. A state report last year showed New Hampshire has taken in $33 million in revenue from the program.

'I think the amendment unnecessarily modifies a program that's working,' Merrill said. Sen. John Gallus of Berlin was the lone Republican to join all five Senate Democrats in opposition to the bill.

Last year, the House refused to go along with the Senate's amendment, with Rep. Jim Garrity, the Atkinson Republican who heads the House Science, Energy and Technology Committee, saying at the time 'the only way to fix it is to get rid of it.' Garrity changed his tune this year, saying he and House Speaker Bill O'Brien were willing to consider whatever the Senate decided.

As the bill now goes back to the House, Garrity said he and other House leaders were not yet sure if they would concur with the Senate's amendment.

'House leadership will have to put our heads together and decide,' he said.

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




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