The state is launching a broad new effort to find ways to reduce the air emissions that drive respiratory disease and climate change in New Hampshire.
The non-partisan Emissions Commission meets for the first time next week and will include members of state agencies, utilities and the legislature, along with health, business and environmental advocates.
New Hampshire has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country. Science shows this and other respiratory problems – including, potentially, COVID-19 – are made worse by many of the same pollutants that drive the harmful effects of climate change.
"The problem is not going away,” says state Sen. Tom Sherman, “and the impact of emissions is cumulative."
Sherman, a Seacoast Democrat and practicing doctor, says he and Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro hoped to tackle this with a study committee proposed this session. After that bill was tabled due to the pandemic, they decided to forge ahead with an ad-hoc group.
The goal, Sherman says, is to draft emissions-cutting legislation for the next session.
They’ll focus on the health impacts of emissions like carbon dioxide and methane, mercury and particulate matter and toxic industrial compounds. They'll be looking at the energy, transportation and building sectors and the manufacture of chemical-based products.
The largest share of New Hampshire’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation. The state is also home to the last sizeable coal power plant in New England – Merrimack Station, in Bow – and has the least aggressive renewable energy goals in the region.
“One of the bridges here that's really never been made is with health care -- what does this mean for our patients, what does this mean for providers,” Sherman says. “And that was the novel part of this.”
He says the commission will take a “fiscally responsible” approach to reducing emissions, prioritizing the advice of medical advocacy groups and other experts.
“It shouldn’t be a threat to businesses. It shouldn’t be a threat to anybody,” he says. “The long-term benefit is a decrease in health care costs, decrease in illness, and at the same time, mitigating some of the impact of emissions and air pollution.”
The group includes some business and environmental groups that don’t always agree on climate policy, including the Business and Industry Association, the state Auto Dealers Association, the Conservation Law Foundation and Clean Energy New Hampshire.
Also joining the commission is the state Office of Strategic Initiatives, which coordinates Gov. Chris Sununu’s energy policy. Sherman says he hasn’t heard pushback or support on this group directly from Sununu, who has vetoed many Democratic climate bills.
Sherman says he hopes framing the often polarizing climate change issue in terms of health outcomes will make it more compelling to more of these stakeholders.
“Climate change and sea level rise … we know they’re happening, but they’re huge concepts that are sometimes a little bit hard to really make pertinent to your everyday life,” he says. “Asthma, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder], restrictive airways disease, having to stay inside on a hot day, all of these things – those are real. We can feel those.
“So being able to address both with a commission that’s really looking at targets for emissions reduction is, in my book, a real win-win for everybody,” Sherman says.
The group will meet and take public input monthly, starting next Thursday, through the end of the year – before issuing a final report with recommendations for lawmakers.