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A N.H. House bill would rename the Department of Environmental Services

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House Republicans have introduced legislation to change the name of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to the Department of Environmental Protection. The agency, which turns 35 this year, has opposed the change.

HB 1452 got its first hearing last week in the House’s Resources, Recreation and Development Committee. It would also give the department the ability to enter private property to conduct oversight on private wells in the state.

Bill Boyd, a Republican representative from Merrimack who sponsored the legislation, said the portion of the legislation that addresses private wells came out of his concern about how the department is able to manage PFAS contamination in the state.

“I think there should be an expectation that DES should just not be in the position of saying ‘your well has a problem, you need to do something about it.’ I think there needs to be more of an enforcement capability,” he said at the hearing.

Part of that enforcement, Boyd said, should involve tracking down the companies that manufactured the chemicals that contaminated the water.

The name change, Boyd said, is a part of the shift to give the department broader capabilities. He called the issue “philosophical.”

“We can no longer be tasked with servicing environmental issues. The contrast between environmental services and environmental protection, I would suggest to you, is the same as the difference between the words ‘may’ and ‘shall.’ ‘May’ grants you a little bit of latitude to do something; ‘shall’ means you’re going to do something,” he said.

The Department of Environmental Services says protection is one part of their mission but not the full scope.

“When they were establishing our agency, they wanted us to be more than just protectors of the environment, which of course, is core to our job, but also they want us to reflect the service that they want us to provide to our citizens in the environment and public health, again, which is our mission,” said DES commissioner Bob Scott.

The Department didn’t take a position on the part of the bill that would give it access to private lands to sample well water. But the commissioner says he hasn’t seen a need for the agency to have additional authority beyond what they already have.

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