Opinion: New Hampshire picking the wrong side in battle for climate accountability

Gas emissions rises from a coal-burning power plant in Colstrip, Mont., July 1, 2013.

Gas emissions rises from a coal-burning power plant in Colstrip, Mont., July 1, 2013. Matt Brown photo


Published: 06-14-2024 6:00 AM

Tony Caplan lives in Henniker and represents Merrimack District 8 in the NH House. He is on the Science, Technology, and Energy Committee.

After New Hampshire’s warmest winter on record, some of the most catastrophic floods to hit the North Country in decades, and extreme heat days occurring earlier every year, the consequences of climate change are becoming impossible to ignore.

We know who to blame for this crisis. For decades, fossil fuel companies have knowingly polluted our climate and tried to cover up their misdeeds through a massive and ongoing disinformation campaign. A recent bicameral Congressional investigation concluded that “For more than half a century, Big Oil has misled the American public about its role in the climate crisis, doing everything in its power to keep the United States and the world dependent on its polluting products.”

Across the country, and particularly in New England, there is a growing movement to hold major oil and gas companies accountable for their climate deception and make them pay for the damage they’ve caused. Attorneys general in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and other states are suing ExxonMobil and others for misleading the public, and Vermont recently became the first state in the nation to pass a law that will make major polluters pay for some of the climate costs caused by their products.

Here in New Hampshire, however, our state leaders are doing the opposite. Instead of standing up to Big Oil and demanding change, Attorney General John Formella recently joined a legal effort to block other states from taking fossil fuel companies to court for their climate lies. Legal experts called the move by 19 Republican attorneys general a highly unusual political maneuver.

But it’s more than that. To me, it’s a loud and clear statement that our current political leadership is more invested in protecting the profits of fossil fuel executives than it is in fighting on behalf of Granite Staters and other communities suffering from the climate crisis. While the rest of us are paying the price for more extreme weather events, polluters like Exxon and Chevron are raking in billions and lobbying against climate solutions. It’s abhorrent.

There is another path we could take. Last year, I introduced a resolution calling on the governor and attorney general to join other states and take “appropriate legal action against multinational fossil fuel companies for harms incurred from disinformation campaigns about the effects of fossil fuel combustion.” While the measure didn’t advance, I believe it helped generate productive conversations in the legislature and beyond about fairness, justice, and the costs of climate change.

New Hampshire has a proud history of standing up to powerful corporations when they cause damage to our state. When Monsanto contaminated our drinking water, the attorney general and governor successfully won a $25 million settlement. When ExxonMobil was found guilty of contaminating groundwater, a jury ordered them to pay $236 million for the cleanup.

So why is the response from state leaders different when it comes to corporations fueling climate change? The fossil fuel industry’s wealth and power have allowed these polluters to escape justice for too long. It’s time to stop the denial and join others in demanding accountability.