A bill that would require New Hampshire to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 got a first hearing in a state legislative committee Friday, earning support from state officials and the public, but meeting with skepticism from some members of the Republican majority.
The goal is the same as that used by states like Massachusetts and several countries, and it's required by the Paris Climate Accords, which the U.S rejoins this month. United Nations scientists say the target is necessary to avert catastrophic impacts from global warming.
This bill, sponsored by House Democrats with a corresponding version in the Senate, would have New Hampshire make a statewide plan for cutting its emissions through new policy- and market-based approaches to heating, electricity and land use. It suggests strategies ranging from renewable energy procurement to transit-oriented development to enhanced forestry.
Mike Fitzgerald, the assistant director of the air resources division at the Department of Environmental Services, told House lawmakers that his agency would need more resources to implement the plan – such as a consultant on the economic benefits of implementation. But he said his agency fully supported the idea of it.
“We certainly think that New Hampshire needs to play a role in the United States’ continuing reduction of emissions,” he said. “This needs to be looked at as kind of an all-hands-on-deck situation … We need to, all the New England states, do our part.”
His comment came in response to one of the few questions from Republicans on the committee. Londonderry Rep. Doug Thomas raised the idea that New Hampshire’s contribution to global emissions wasn’t enough to merit a bill like this – especially compared to countries like China and India, a popular political talking point in recent years among opponents of climate action.
In response, Fitzgerald pointed out that countries like those are taking aggressive steps to curb emissions and boosting their economies in the process. He noted that the U.S. is also a top world emitter with a greater contribution to the crisis per capita.
According to the World Bank, U.S. emissions per capita have been mostly falling since 2007. As of 2016, each American emitted 15.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide on average – equal to a year of driving in 3.3 cars, or to consuming more than 1,700 gallons of gasoline, or to the carbon stored by about 20 acres of forest in a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
China’s per-capita emissions began declining in 2013 and stood at 7.2 metric tons per person in 2016. India’s per-capita emissions are increasing, but stood at just 1.8 metric tons in India in 2016.
On the whole, more emissions come from developed and wealthier nations, and from major fossil fuel producers such as Qatar, which had the world’s top emissions per capita in 2016.
Fitzgerald also noted that the northeastern U.S. constitutes a major world economy. The World Economic Forum says the Northeast, from Maryland to Maine, was comparable in economic scale as of 2015 to Japan, the third-largest economy in the world.
According to a federal report from 2016, New Hampshire ranked in the bottom five among states and Washington, D.C. for total emissions from energy uses, for electricity, heating and transportation. The state was tenth-lowest for emissions per capita.
Supporters of the emissions goal bill say cutting those emissions further will have myriad health and economic benefits, such as by creating jobs in heating electrification and home-grown renewable energy to replace imported fossil fuels.
The lone opponent of the bill who testified was Karen Luther, who represents a Massachusetts-based trade group focused on home heating sources powered by gas, wood and oil. She worried that a push for electrification would kill small business jobs that rely on fossil fuels.
“Allowing homeowners energy choice and energy diversity is important in the Northeast, where below-freezing temperatures and power outages as a result of winter weather are very common,” she said.
Supporters of electrification say there are many economic benefits in transitioning away from expensive fuel oil for home heating in particular.
The bill would have the state meet benchmarks along the way to net zero, cutting emissions 20% over 1990 levels in the next four years, 50% by 2035, and 85% or more by the point of net zero 29 years from now.
Net zero is defined as lowering emissions to the point that what’s emitted annually is equal to what’s removed from the atmosphere, such as through forests and wetlands or carbon storage.
Republicans questioned whether Gov. Chris Sununu’s newly proposed Department of Energy would handle policies like this, absolving the legislature of a need to act. Democrat Kat McGhee of Hollis, one of the bill’s sponsors, said she didn’t want to wait any longer.
“At least if we have some focus and move forward as a House to say that we would like to get to work on it, rather than have further delays in the setup and the funding, et cetera, et cetera, of having that energy department come into being, then I think we would be that much further along,” she said.
McGhee was part of a recent bipartisan ad-hoc emissions commission, some members of which agreed to recommend a 2050 net-zero goal in December. They heard testimony on the health impacts of climate change, and from DES, which said New Hampshire’s past emissions reductions would level off in the coming years without further policies on the issue.
Sixteen-year-old Ilinca Drondoe testified to the House committee Friday on behalf of the New Hampshire High School Democrats. She said she’s spoken up on bills like this multiple times in the past three years, with few results.
“I want to emphasize that climate change is more than just a political issue – it is an issue impacting what I and all other youth will be able to aspire to,” she said. “I will keep coming back year after year, however long it takes, until I see action.”
Few Republicans in the legislature have ever supported policies like this. Last year, Gov. Sununu vetoed a bill that would have required the state’s utilities to use more than 50% renewable energy by 2040.
New Hampshire’s current renewable energy goal is 25% by 2025 – the lowest in the region. Another Republican-backed bill the House committee heard Friday would reduce that target.