Senate OKs House bill lowers emissions cap to meet RGGI standards
CONCORD — Electricity generators will have to lower their fossil fuel emissions under a bill approved by the Senate Thursday on a 14-10 vote.
House Bill 306 lowers the regional emissions cap under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but does not make other major changes to the program.
The bill would bring New Hampshire in line with the other eight states in the initiative the state joined in 2008.
The representatives from the nine participating states agreed last year to the lower emissions limits, according to Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, because while significant progress has been made, much of the reduction is due to greater use of less polluting natural gas and the economic recession, which drove down electric use.
Contrary to opponents' contentions that the bill would drive up costs to customers, Fuller Clark said, not approving the lower emission limit will drive up the cost.
Under the bill, the distribution of the proceeds from the auction of carbon allowances will continue to go to core energy efficiency programs run by the state's utilities. Also, the remaining proceeds will be rebated to customers, she said.
The state electric generators and businesses support the change, Fuller Clark said, because they want market and price certainty going forward.
For two years, lawmakers have fought over the RGGI program.
While most lawmakers in the last term wanted major changes, former Gov. John Lynch did not, vetoing attempts to repeal the program.
Last year lawmakers agreed to shift money generated by the sale of allowances away from individual energy efficiency projects to the core energy efficiency programs.
The conservative activist group Americans for Prosperity has pushed repeal of the program here and in other RGGI states.
After the Senate vote, the group's New Hampshire state director, Greg Moore, said the bill would raise the RGGI tax by 30 percent.
"The solution to this failed cap-and-trade scheme was not to double-down on its failure by raising taxes, as this bill does, but instead to get our state out of this mess," said Moore. "We need to end the war on energy consumers by stopping destructive programs like RGGI and look for ways to reduce energy costs for our citizens."
The House passed HB 306 on a 190-156 vote in March.
The Senate made several changes to the bill, so it will have to return to the House.
The Senate also approved House Bill 630, which allocates 15 percent of the program's fund to low-income energy efficiency programs.