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Tom Thomson: After irresponsible veto of biomass bill, Sununu hijacked my father’s classic slogan

  • Tom Thomson at age 15, working on the family farm with work horse Babe, cutting spruce and fir pulp for the old Franconia Pulp Mill in Lincoln. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 8/23/2018 12:10:12 AM

This past week I saw a YouTube ad put out by Gov. Chris Sununu’s office concerning his veto of Senate Bill 365, known as the biomass bill. The title of the ad is “Axing the Biomass Tax,” which copies the legendary slogan my father, the late Gov. Mel Thomson, coined: “AX the TAX.”

I am disappointed the governor felt he had to go there. Maybe he worries the N.H. Legislature is ready to overturn his veto of SB 365, which received overwhelming bipartisan support when the original vote was taken earlier this year. SB 365 passed in the House by a vote of 225-108 and in the Senate by 17-4.

If you’re not familiar with biomass energy, it is simply generating electricity using low-grade wood from our forests. This market for low-grade wood is important for forest landowners; it makes sustainable forest management for timber and wildlife possible. The establishment of six biomass energy plants in New Hampshire was encouraged years ago by our elected officials during a period of high, unstable foreign oil prices. Many believed that during fluctuating energy prices it made good sense to have a portion of our state’s energy produced from a local natural renewable resource – namely wood.

New Hampshire is the second-most forested state in the country. We don’t have to rely only on unstable foreign supplies for our energy. Just as important, burning local biomass keeps energy dollars here at home, benefiting our local communities and creating good-paying jobs throughout our state.

I am a New Hampshire forest landowner and certified tree farmer, just as my father was. He taught me to be a good steward of the forest. My father also had a bedrock philosophy he shared with me, which I remember well: “You stand for something or you stand for nothing.” I am proud to stand with some of the hardest working men and women I know – men and women who work in the N.H. forest industry. But now their jobs are being threatened due to this veto.

These men and women support one of the oldest continuous industries in New Hampshire, an industry made possible only by our natural renewable forests, which cover close to 5 million acres, or 84 percent of the entire state. And more than three-quarters of our forests are privately owned.

New Hampshire’s forest products industry, the third-largest industry in the state, generates $1.4 billion of annual value. This is a result of our forest industry and forest landowners working together. Yet another $1.4 billion is generated by the industry and landowners working together to benefit recreation and tourism by sharing the use of our forests and thousands of miles of trails.

Nearly 7,800 people are employed in the forest products industry; another 10,800 are employed in the forest recreation economy. These are impressive numbers. Yet they are already changing in a negative way since the governor’s veto of SB 365.

But this is not just about jobs. The veto is resulting in unintended consequences which the governor and his staff didn’t think about or just didn’t care about. I sat with Gov. Sununu in his office five days before he vetoed SB 365 and explained that I have owned and managed forestland in New Hampshire for 62 years and I want to continue growing trees, but if I have no market for low-grade wood I cannot practice sustainable forestry. I’ll have to begin growing house lots rather than trees, which I don’t want to do.

I also pointed out that up to now, private forest landowners have for years shared their lands for recreation at no cost to the public or the state, but if these landowners cannot sustainably manage their forests, they will decide to close access to their lands. That would be a sad day for New Hampshire. It would also have a crippling effect on the state’s economy, especially in the North Country, where recreation and tourism are the economic lifeblood of the communities.

The erosion of New Hampshire’s forest industry and beginning of the unintended consequences began the moment Gov. Sununu vetoed SB 365. Now the governor is calling support for our forest industry a “tax,” and he has shamelessly stolen a phrase my father coined to promote fiscal responsibility. Believe me, there’s nothing responsible about this veto.

If the governor’s veto of SB 365 is not overturned, I believe our thriving forest industry could be a thing of the past – and what a shame that would be for our entire state.

Next month, on Sept. 13, our elected representatives and senators face an important decision for their constituents: whether to overturn the governor’s veto of SB 365. In the strongest terms, I encourage them to do so. 

(Tom Thomson, of the Thomson Family Tree Farm, lives in Orford.)

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