New Hampshire's (un)greening: first fight in national greenhouse gas emissions battle?

7c6de_wind-turbine1 Washington, D.C. is not the only capital where reform-minded new legislators are crusading for the changes they promised while on the campaign trail.

State legislatures around the country are shaping up as battleground sites for some of the most hotly-debated government issues since the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, and – as then – energy and the environment top the agenda.

Indeed, with members of the U.S. Congress rattling sabers in advance of the expected greenhouse regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a particularly compelling fight is shaping up in Concord, New Hampshire. A new Republican majority in the state House of Representatives began its first term by addressing priority one: withdrawing the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Established as a bipartisan carbon cap-and-trade market between 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states – and the first mandatory emissions trading plan in the country – RGGI has since 2005 raised more than $777 million for the participating states. It has also prompted charges of wasteful government spending and undue taxation.

Led by a core of hard-charging freshmen legislators who don’t see the value RGGI delivers to New Hampshire, the state GOP wants to repeal the multi-state compact as a tax that dampens economic growth and provides few real benefits. This argument readily carried the day last month, when the state House Science, Technology and Energy Committee passed a bill to remove New Hampshire from RGGI. More recently, the full New Hampshire House approved the same bill.

Whither New Hampshire, given this momentum? Like its brethren in D.C., state legislation is driven by hard-charging freshmen GOP reformers; also like D.C., however, NH has a more measured upper chamber. With the locus of the RGGI fight shifting to the New Hampshire Senate, RGGI supporters have mobilized and are well-armed. The pro-RGGI arguments include the reduced electricity demand (and thus price) from RGGI; the value of energy efficiency as an in-state alternative energy source; and the return on investment from RGGI funds: roughly every dollar of investment in utility electricity demand reduction programs leverages four dollars toward job creation and sustaining private investment.

The fight is afoot in New Hampshire. Will the battle lines drawn in the Granite State transition to the federal stage when the U.S. EPA tries to regulate greenhouse emissions? If new members of the U.S. Congress follow the lead of their New Hampshire counterparts, the lessons from up North may be most instructive.

Contributed by Jay Staunton