- Associated Press - Saturday, January 6, 2018

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Environmentalists are clashing with fossil fuel supporters over who should get money saved from cutting gas emissions throughout the state.

Two bills will be voted on Tuesday that deal with how the money earned from the program should be spent.

New Hampshire is one of nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first U.S. program that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program has been credited with cutting emissions by 30 percent and sending nearly $3 billion in savings back to the states over the last decade. The states’ economies grew 25 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to the Acadia Center, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy.

The program works by setting limits to the amounts of carbon dioxide a power plant can release and requires a company to purchase allowances or credits equal to the amount of those emissions. Money raised through auctioning those allowances goes back to the states.

In fiscal year 2018, New Hampshire is expected to get $14 million back. The refunds in the past have gone to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs as well as rebates to commercial and residential ratepayers

One bill, supported by conservative Americans for Prosperity, would shift the entire $14 million to ratepayers. Originally, the bill called for the state to pull out of the pact but given the difficulty of that, it now intends to reward the ratepayers as part of an effort to bring down energy costs.

“It makes more sense to give the money back to ratepayers rather than to engage in these programs which make no economic sense on their own or else the towns would do them on their own,” said Greg Moore, Americans for Prosperity state director.

Republican State Rep. Michael Harrington, the bill’s sponsor, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

A coalition of faith-based and environmental groups and municipal leaders rallied this week in opposition to the bill, arguing that it would undercut successful efforts to grow renewable energy and promote energy efficiency in the state.

“It is extremely short-sighted,” said Rob Werner, state director of the League of Conservation Voters. “It means there would be no revenue for well-proven energy efficiency programs that save municipalities money, save taxpayers money and have economic benefits.”

Werner’s group is among several that support a second bill, also to be voted on Tuesday, which would increase the share that goes to these programs. Under the second bill, authored by Republican State Rep. Herb Richardson, the saved money would go to municipalities, schools and low-income residents. Commercial, not residential, ratepayers would still get their rebates.

Richardson, who says he lives on a fixed income, said investing in energy efficiency programs in schools and towns would result in lower property taxes. He also argued that eliminating the residential rebate would have little impact on the half million ratepayers, since they only about $6 back each year. And it would provide much-needed assistant to low income seniors and others who don’t have the money to weatherize their homes.

He estimated there are 40,000 people in the waiting for weatherization assistance across the state and a 10-year waiting list for those in the state’s north country. The program includes an energy audit and improvements aimed at helping homeowners cut their electric and fuel costs.

“They don’t have the money to put into weatherization. They have got all they can do to put food on their table,” Richardson said.

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