New Hampshire will stick with its cap-and-trade program — for now, at least.
Governor John Lynch kept his veto pen in his pocket last weekend, allowing a compromise bill on New Hampshire's membership in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to become law.
The state's GOP-dominated legislature passed the bill earlier this month. Under it, New Hampshire will remain a member of the carbon-reduction pact, which it joined in 2008. However, it will withdraw from RGGI if two other member states — or one state with at least 10 percent of the region's energy load — leave the deal.
Under RGGI, polluters bid in state-sponsored auctions for the right to emit greenhouse gases. Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire oppose the cap-and-trade program, arguing that utility companies simply pass auction costs on to electric ratepayers. The new law will divert auction revenues from the state Public Utility Commission to energy efficiency programs run by utilities, while sending some of the money back to ratepayers through rebates.
Region-wide, the pact has increased consumer electricity rates about 0.7 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to a study released in November by Analysis Group. But experts expect better efficiency will lower those rates over time.
“This change in how we use RGGI funding will not allow us to be as effective in our energy efficiency efforts as we have been the previous three years,” Colin Manning, Governor Lynch's spokesman, said in an email. “But it does keep New Hampshire in RGGI, which is why the Governor allowed this bill to become law without his signature.”
Last year, Lynch vetoed an outright repeal of the state's involvement in the pact, which has generated over $1 billion for its member states since 2008, including at least $31 million for 36 energy efficiency projects in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire isn't the first state to consider exiting RGGI. Lawmakers in Maine tried but failed to leave last year. And in New Jersey last year, Governor Chris Christie issued an executive order revoking the state's membership. That move infuriated the Democratic legislature, and prompted litigation from environmental groups, which accuse the governor of failing to seek public input.