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Logging industry mobilized to cut down Sununu’s biomass veto

  • Shawn Hanson of Hanson Logging in New Ipswich screams along with his son Jake at the “Override the Vetoes” rally at the State House on Thursday in Concord. Photos by GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Loggers Shawn Hanson (left) and his son Jake listen to the speeches at the "Override the Vetoes" rally at the State House on Thursday, September 6, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Senator Bob Giuda of Warren speaks to the "Override the Vetoes" rally at the State House on Wednesday, September 6, 2018 in Concord. Governors make mistakes, said Giuda, R-Warren. “This is one of them. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • "Override the Vetoes" participants including State Rep. Clyde Carlson of Warner (right) listen to speakers at the State House on Thursday, September 6, 2018 in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Trees are cut into logs by the the loader/slasher at one of Stacey Thomson's timber sites in Bath, N.H., on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. August Frank

  • From left, Peter Chaloux, of Topsham, Vt., and truck driver Jeff Gordon, of Orford, N.H., work on a Chipper at a timber site in Bath, N.H., on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. August Frank

  • Steven Farnsworda drags trees to the cutting site using a skidder in Bath, N.H., on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. August Frank

  • Stacey Thomson manages one of his timber sites spanning 200 acres in Bath, N.H., on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Thomson will have to look at cutbacks in the wake of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoing an energy bill related to wood chip power plants last month. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. August Frank

  • Trucks carry chipped wood from logging jobs within 75 miles of the Springfield Power biomass plant to be burned to generate electricity, Wednesday, August 2, 2018. The plant burns about 640 tons of the chips per day. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson



Monitor staff
Thursday, September 06, 2018

Rallying Thursday, supporters of New Hampshire’s biomass industry made one message clear: the crunch is on.

Plant operators, loggers, mayors and politicians have railed against Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a subsidy for biomass plants since it was issued June 19. But with days left before lawmakers convene Sept. 13 to reconsider vetoed bills, advocates say it’s time to ramp up the pressure on individual lawmakers.

On Thursday, more than a hundred supporters – in suits, T-shirts and logging gear – crammed into a corner of the State House lawn to add voice to that pressure.

“Governors make mistakes,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren. “This is one of them.”

The bill, Senate Bill 365, would have mandated that New Hampshire utility companies purchase a set amount of energy from the state’s biomass plants, which burn wood chips supplied by loggers from low-grade wood. Those plants have struggled to stay competitive in recent years amid a surge of cheap natural gas and supporters said the bill would create an important lifeline to an industry that employs many and adds to energy diversity.

Sununu and other opponents said the purchase requirements amounted to an unfair subsidy of an uncompetitive energy source that would drive everyone’s electricity rates up. In vetoing the bill, the governor said he was standing up for ratepayers and businesses, who already face some of the highest electricity rates in the country.

The veto had near-instant industry ramifications. Within a week, three New Hampshire biomass plants announced they would no longer be purchasing wood chips from timber suppliers and would be suspending or limiting operations until Legislature decided whether to overturn the veto in September. Industry representatives quickly began warning of job losses for plant workers and loggers, many based in the North Country.

Throughout the rally, industry spokespeople – from loggers to plant managers to environmental advocates – argued the veto has already taken a toll on jobs and hurt the ability for effective forest management.

The political fallout came quickly too: Members of Sununu’s party, many from northern districts, decried the impact on jobs and pressed their colleagues for an override. On Thursday, those voices took to the microphone.

“Everybody hot under the collar?” bellowed Sen. Jeb Bradley, the Republican Senate Majority Leader from Wolfeboro, addressing timber workers in the crowd. “So am I. You know why? Your jobs are at risk. They’re at stake, if you haven’t lost them already.”

Voicing that reality to undecided representatives, he added, would be crucial to turning the tables. “You have five days – six days to make your voice heard,” he said. “You have to make your voice heard.”

For his part, Sununu said the opposition is a distortion of his veto. At a separate event Thursday, Sununu argued had the interests of all ratepayers when he struck down the bill.

“These rallies are smoke and mirrors to avoid the fact that when you have a state of 1.3 million people, some of the highest energy rates in the country, asking folks to take another huge $25 million tax rate increase, and who pays for that,” he said, referencing projections on the costs to ratepayers, which timber representatives and supporters have disputed.

Sununu said the people who will have to pay include the elderly, those on fixed incomes, low-income families.

“These are the folks that have to pay this regressive tax to keep these biomass plants open,” he said.

The vetoed bills are set to be reconsidered by the Senate next week; if two-thirds of the body – or 16 senators – vote to override them, they’ll head over to the House, which must also produce a two-thirds vote to override.

Measuring the chances of a successful override has proven difficult. When Senate Bill 365 passed the full Senate in March, it did so by voice vote, with no senator’s vote directly on the record. But advocates for an override are staying confident, pointing to a 17-4 vote on an amendment to the bill that they say indicates the measure has support.

Whether they can retain that support – midway through an election season and with a governor who’s framed his veto as a boost to ratepayers – remains to be seen. And the override measure will need to pass the House, which passed SB 365 in May with just over 67 percent support.

Jasen Stock, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owner’s Association, which sponsored the rally, argued the 6,000 signatures the group has collected opposing the vetoes demonstrated grassroots support. But the real challenge, he acknowledged, is convincing the House. In the organization’s legislator-to-legislator head counts, he said, next Thursday’s vote is “too close to call.”

“If you heard it once, you heard it a dozen times,” he told supporters. “It’s – right now – it’s all about making phone calls.”