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Capital Beat: Climate change donations revving up

Last modified: 7/11/2015 11:41:01 PM
Ahead of the elections, climate change money is starting to stream into New Hampshire as national groups and donors seek to give the topic prominence during the presidential primary and other campaigns.

But, not all state environmental activists see it as a totally good thing.

Last week a super PAC backing U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte netted a $500,000 donation from a North Carolina entrepreneur looking to spend $175 million convincing Republicans the climate change is real, according to The Hill.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who founded super PAC NextGen Climate, dropped by the Seacoast Friday calling for leaders to prioritize clean energy policies. Steyer is not sure how much NextGen, which promotes a progressive energy policy, will invest in New Hampshire and whether the PAC will get involved in other races besides the presidential primary. Last year, NextGen spent nearly $3.2 million on the state’s U.S. Senate race to help Democrat Jeanne Shaheen defeat Scott Brown.

But he said it’s important this election that candidates have a conversation focused on climate, a clean energy policy, and how it affects business.

“We think it’s really important that the candidates who come to New Hampshire are held to a specific standard and have to come out with specific programs,” he said. “Our goal has always been to have Americans come together on this issue.”

In addition to clean energy money, the New Hampshire elections will undoubtedly attract outside dollars from groups pushing oil and fossil fuels, that have played here in the past.

“They are all going to be coming into the primary,” said Jameson French, president and CEO of Northland Forest Products, who is active in environmental groups in the state. “It’s quite a phenomenon for a little state like ours to have all this big money coming in.”

But as the election money for energy and climate start seeping into New Hampshire, some state environmental advocates say an over-politicizing of the issue can be damaging to the cause.

“I actually get really frustrated by these outside groups because I think they fire up the polarized extremes,” French said. “They get those people even more entrenched, which makes it more difficult to build a center.”

While it’s valuable to have the discussion about climate change, which the money will help promote, activists say, if the state and country are going to make meaningful change on the issue it has to come from both sides working together. And that means not demonizing one side or letting one party own the issue.

“Energy issues need to be de-politicized,” said Kate Epsen, executive director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association. “I worry an arms race in political contributions may have the opposite effect.”

Some worry that partisan conversations about the topic during elections can make it harder to build consensus after an election.

“The danger is, what I want to avoid, is for the issue of climate and clean energy to become a very black-and-white, partisan issue,” said Jim O’Brien, with the The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire. “The consequence of that spending makes it harder for groups who are interested in building bridges, or building partisan solutions to get there.”

While climate hasn’t typically been a top issue driving New Hampshire voters to the polls, it is an area that people in the state care about. A majority of the state’s electorate believes in man-made climate change.

A recent poll found roughly 58 percent of residents agree with scientific consensus that human activities are changing the climate, said Larry Hamilton, a professor at the University of New Hampshire and senior fellow at the Carsey Institute of Public Policy. That is up from roughly 53 percent in 2010.

“I think environmental issues are viewed favorably in New Hampshire,” Hamilton said. “That’s potentially a strong issue.”

It’s not clear whether all the early money will push climate change to the top of the agenda in New Hampshire, in any of the races.

Ayotte, one of the most recent candidates to announce in New Hampshire, covered a lot of ground in her re-election kick-off speech, touching on the economy, substance abuse, veterans health care, trade and foreign policy, among other topics.

She didn’t touch climate.

Call it confusion

Did he or didn’t he? Will she or won’t she? Those are just some of the questions prompted by a story published by Politico last week that said U.S. Sen. Harry Reid is pressuring Gov. Maggie Hassan to challenge Ayotte.

The Washington-based news site reported that unnamed sources said the U.S. Senate Minority Leader has “privately urged her to run.”

That tidbit generated quite a buzz in New Hampshire, where Hassan’s political plans remain a mystery.

But, according to Reid’s people, the conversation with Hassan didn’t happen.

“Sen. Reid has not talked to Gov. Hassan,” Reid’s spokesman Adam Jentleson told Politico on Wednesday, a day after the article was originally published. The quote appeared in an updated version of the story.

So have they talked or not? Reid’s office didn’t return a Monitor request for comment. And Hassan’s campaign wouldn’t directly say. “I can confirm that the updated Politico article is accurate,” said campaign spokesman Marc Goldberg.

It’s a confusing answer, given that the updated article includes the denial but still says Reid has called Hassan.

At least one thing is certain: Hassan has and likely will continue to feel pressure to challenge Ayotte.

Many Democrats see Hassan as their best shot to take on the first-term Republican in 2016. But Hassan remains locked in a budget battle with the Legislature, and she has said she won’t make any decision until after a state spending plan is finalized. That could take six months.

Some Democrats in the state are convinced Hassan will run for re-election as governor.

Any decision Hassan makes will have a ripple effect across the state’s Democratic field.

If Hassan runs for Senate, the governor’s race will open up. Several names are already floating through Democratic circles, including Executive Councilors Colin Van Ostern and Chris Pappas. If Hassan runs for re-election, the party must put up another candidate to challenge Ayotte.

Until Hassan announces her plans, most of those other decisions remain on hold, at least publicly.

Who were those protesters?

The budget bickering this week largely played out in a series of press releases, as Republicans and Democrats filed dueling right to know requests dripping with partisan insults.

But outside the online fighting, several protesters showed up to the Monitor’s substance abuse forum Thursday with signs demanding change on the budget. They read “stop heroin support the budget” and “save lives support budget.”

The five protesters said they are most concerned about Hassan’s veto of the state budget, which they said added 75 percent more money to substance abuse.

None of the protesters stuck around for the full forum, nor would they say if anyone urged them to show up. Their messaging, however, lines up with what Republicans have been putting out. The state GOP wouldn’t say whether it sent the protestors or not, but confirmed that the party has emailed grassroots activists “urging them to speak out against Governor Hassan’s irresponsible veto of a 75% increase in substance abuse funding.”

Bon voyage

Several state senators are taking off for Israel this week, for a trip paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation that will highlight the “vital importance of the US-Israel relationship.”

Democratic Sens. Dan Feltes, Donna Soucy and Jeff Woodburn left Saturday.

The trip, meant to show Israeli approaches to issues that could be relevant for New Hampshire, was cleared by the state legislative ethics committee.

Sixty-four legislators from 23 states have participated in similar AIEF-sponsored programs.

The senators will be back July 19.

Award season

Durham Rep. Timothy Horrigan won an award this month, but perhaps not one for the mantelpiece. Horrigan, a Democrat, was one of ten named for the the 2015 Muzzle Awards, which spotlight people or organizations that diminish free speech. Horrigan’s award winning action? Sponsoring the state’s law that bans so-called ballot selfies. The law has been challenged in federal court.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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