Weekly N.H. News Roundup: July 19, 2019

Jul 19, 2019

The governor signs a bill into law to protect New Hampshire children from discrimination at school. He also signed into law a bill requiring public schools to provide tampons or pads in all gender neutral and female restrooms. We discuss the controversy in Newington over Pride Month lawn signs. And the Supreme Court releases its decision on the Northern Pass appeal of the denial of its $1.6 billion high-transmission power line project.

GUESTS: 

Casey McDermott investigated how lobbying has changed in N.H. over the years. 

Annie Ropeik discussed the Supreme Court decision regarding Northern Pass. She attended the recent JLCAR hearing and reported on N.H.'s adoption of the country’s most sweeping limits for PFAS contamination in drinking water.

Seacoastonline.com has been covering the ongoing controversy over development of the McIntyre Buildiing in Portsmouth. 

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Peter Biello:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Peter Biello and this is the weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange.

Peter Biello:
Governor Chris Sununu signs a bill requiring school districts to provide feminine hygiene products in school bathrooms. The state Supreme Court is poised to decide on the Northern Pass appeal and lobbying at the statehouse as it becomes more complex. Tracking the money becomes harder and harder. These and other stories made headlines this week. We're going to talk about them in this hour. If you've got questions or comments about the week's news, send them to us by e-mail. The address is exchange at an HP bar dot org.

Peter Biello:
And here to talk about the week's news and answer your questions, our Anna Brown, director of research and analysis at Citizens Count. Howard Altschiller, executive editor of the Seacoast Media Group, which includes the Portsmouth Herald and Foster's Daily Democrat and Dean Spiliotes Civic Scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at SNHU. Thank you very much, everybody, for being here. Good morning. Hey, Peter.

Peter Biello:
And we will be discussing some bills signed by the governor. So just by way of disclosure, Howard Altschiller is married to Democratic Representative Debra Altschiller. OK, so Governor Sununu signed off a few bills recently. One of them this week would add anti-discrimination laws that cover gender identity to the state's schools. So, Anna, what are advocates saying that this bill would accomplish?

Anna Brown:
Sure So the idea is there are federal laws that protect students from discrimination, but not state laws. So this came from a recommendation of the Governor's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. They were saying that New Hampshire is one of the only states in the Northeast without any state laws that are protecting students in schools. And it would allow the attorney general and the Human Rights Commission, et cetera, to get involved in these sorts of cases. So we're looking at, you know, exclusionary discipline of students of color. So students of color getting suspended more frequently or schools excluding gender nonconforming students from the locker room of their choice. Those sorts of issues. Advocates definitely say that this is a way to increase protection for students and to fight back against incidents of, you know, racism and gender based bullying and other things that have happened in our school and gotten a lot of news coverage.

Peter Biello:
Dean?

Dean Spiliotes:
Yeah. This kind of legislation is something that the state legislature has been talking about and working on for some time now. And we're seeing it mirrored in increasingly in other states around the country as well. And as Anna mentioned. Some critics are arguing that, you know, that their concern is that will this will open up a flood floodgate of litigation for the four school districts. And supporters say, well, you know, if there's a flood, a floodgate of litigation that follows, it probably tells you that something was out of whack in the system to begin with. So we've been this is a state we've been moving in this direction for some time now.

Anna Brown:
Yeah. And I think I think it's worth noting that there is not a great understanding of the potential costs. The Human Rights Commission in New Hampshire already has a big backlog. And so that that's an issue of, you know, costs for them. Costs for local school districts in terms of more lawsuits. There was an alternate amendment that was approached proposed at one point to make this a study committee. But but this has gone through. So it's gonna be kind of interesting to see how it how it pans out.

Peter Biello:
And did Governor Sununu sort of have to buck his party to do this?

Anna Brown:
Well, there are many Republicans who do support expanding gender identity protections in particular. Last year, Governor Sununu signed the law that added gender identity to the state anti-discrimination laws. So I wouldn't say that he is, you know, alienating a base of his party. New Hampshire does have somewhat of a history of Republicans being slightly more moderate on this.

Dean Spiliotes:
But there was some uncertainty, I think, there. Yeah. And and no one really knew what it was.

Anna Brown:
I'll be honest. I wasn't sure who was gonna sign it or not.

Dean Spiliotes:
People were just unsure what he was going to do.

Peter Biello:
We're also unsure of how he's going to act. He hasn't acted yet, as far as I know, on the on the other bill, the bill to allow people over the age of 18 with a doctor's permission to change their their gender on their birth certificate. Still not sure.

Anna Brown:
So last week he did sign HB 669. Well, actually, it's you that he didn't sign. It passed without his signature. So HB 669, which requires driver's licenses to indicate gender is male, female or other as chosen by the applicant. So there is a companion bill to that HB 446, which as you said with it. I know from a doctor basically would allow someone to change their gender identity on their birth certificate. So supporters would argue these two bills go together. It wouldn't make sense to have your driver's license indicate one thing in your birth certificate indicate another. But as Dean Spiliotes noticed, he let this become law without signature. So it's a little ambiguous. Is he really going to fully get on board with this?

Dean Spiliotes:
You would think you would want to create unintentional bureaucratic. confusion.

Dean Spiliotes:
One document, official document says one thing and the other official document says something different.

Peter Biello:
So what are the political?

Peter Biello:
What's the political significance, Dean, of signing a law versus letting it become law without signature?

Dean Spiliotes:
Well it's a you know, it's kind of a way to signal to the supporters kind of where you are in terms of the larger issue. You know, this these are these are Republicans. Some of these bills can be can be tricky because there are there is some support, as Anna mentioned, but there's also some opposition as well. So just kind of letting it go into law without signing is a way of not explicitly endorsing it, even if you kind of realize that it's something that needs to happen.

Peter Biello:
Yeah. And what's your saying sense of the strength of the opposition to the bill that would allow people to change Their gender identity on their birth certificate.

Dean Spiliotes:
You know, this is something that, you know, the country and states as well. State legislatures have been having these discussions about gender identity. It's becoming increased. I think people are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea in terms of how it affects laws and bureaucratic rules. And so, yeah, my sense is that perhaps the opposition is starting to to lessen a little bit over time. You know, much in the same way when you ever have these kinds of cultural changes in the country, you know, people get more comfortable over time. But there has been opposition opposition to it. And and and a lot of the opposition has you know, it may be ideological or cultural, but the crux of the argument has been that we don't really know what this means in terms of litigation and other kinds of unintended costs to the to the state's power.

Howard Altschiller:
I think to a Dean's point, this is the state law probably catching up, lagging and then catching up with where society is going. And let's remember that in this legislative session, we have our first two openly transgendered lawmakers. And, you know, last year was the passing of protections for transgender people. And I think, you know, this is where the state is heading.

Peter Biello:
Listeners, if you've got questions or comments about the week's news, we'd love to hear from you. Send us an e-mail. The address is exchange at an NHPR.org dot org. Also in the news this week, Governor Sununu signed a bill into law requiring school districts to provide feminine hygiene products in school bathrooms. Anna, can you remind us how this issue came up in the legislature?

Anna Brown:
Sure. So there was actually a team in Rochester who was doing a school project, and she ended up approaching her legislators and saying this is a bill that I think we shouldn't have. And so this bill, it's interesting, it didn't get a whole lot of opposition. There was a little opposition based on costs. The idea is that schools are going to have to pay for these products and make them available in bathrooms. But there's been a lot of support. And Governor Sununu, when he signed it, said, you know, this bill is about equality and dignity. It will help ensure women in New Hampshire does have the freedom to learn without disruption, free of shame and fear of stigma.

Howard Altschiller:
I think one of the one of the most convincing arguments is, you know, people said, well, there's going to be a cost affiliated with this. And they said, well, there's cost affiliated with toilet paper. And we don't argue about that in paper towels. So how is this any different? And in Rochester, where this young woman is from and who initiated the bill, they've been doing this voluntarily already and the cost is is pretty minor.

Peter Biello:
Is this something that other states mandate? Do you know?

Howard Altschiller:
I can't say. I don't know.

Anna Brown:
If I remember correctly that there are a couple other states who who have looked into this and done that and maybe some cities as well. But I don't think that it's widespread.

Howard Altschiller:
And I do know in in Maine, they were talking about it and the York hospital stepped up to pay for it, you know, out of their funds.

Howard Altschiller:
And so for it it schools to pay for it at look at local schools, local.

Peter Biello:
OK. And when does this take effect this next school year.

Anna Brown:
Immediately. Yes. I mean, schools are going to be looking at this right now.

Ok, listeners, again, comments and questions. Welcome e-mail exchange at NHPR.org. Let's shift to another political arena. That of the Senate election coming up in 2020. The battle to take on Senator Jeanne Shaheen in the general election is heating up. The union leader first reported this week on the candidacy of Bryant Corky Messner. So Dean's millions. Who is Corky Messner?

Dean Spiliotes:
He is someone who built up a successful legal practice in Denver, Colorado, has since moved here. He's a veteran of the armed services, a former Army Ranger. You know, he's running as a conservative. What I've heard from him so far is talk about the Democratic socialists who hate the free markets and capitalism. It'll be interesting to talk to him about President Trump's tariff policy, which is something he would be voting on, on trade agreements, et cetera, were he to be in the U.S. Senate. So he's running he's running as a conservative and he's going to be looks like he's going to be facing at least two other challengers to Jeanne Shaheen. We already have retired Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc in the race. He's a decorated Army general. And the third likely this coming Tuesday will be former state speaker of the House Bill O'Brien. And we're already hearing Gen. Bolduc talk about O'Brien as a career politician. He's running as an outsider. So it sounds like we're going to have a pretty, pretty healthy Republican primary, at least among these three individuals.

Dean Spiliotes:
And you know, Jeanne Shaheen. She's had a good fundraising quarter, raised almost two million dollars, has almost three million in the bank. Still a popular senator. It's going to be, you know, without without Governor Sununu entering the race. I think it's going to a little bit more difficult to unseat her. But if nothing else, we're going to be treated to, I think, an interesting Republican primary in a year.

Anna Brown:
So two things that I found interesting. So, first of all, as as Dean noted. You know, General Don Bolduc has said that O'Brien is career politician and he's the outsider, well. O'Brien is also saying that he is the outsider and the ideas he's not been part of the Republican mainstream. And when he first came to the House, he was part of the Tea Party movement in terms of being outside that mainstream Republican Party. The other thing that I found is interesting is when Messner announced, he he brought up Democratic socialists in Washington and referenced fighting against the Cold War. And I you know, it's got interesting history repeating itself. You know, that cycle seems to come up again. And so it'll be it'll be interesting if this becomes very much a sort of, you know, it's socialism versus capitalism type of race.

Dean Spiliotes:
Well, that was beyond brand with I think the message we're seeing President Trump develop out on the stump.

Peter Biello:
And Howard, your thoughts on the Bolduc Messner O'Brien race, if that if it is indeed that race for the primary?

Howard Altschiller:
Well, I it looked to me like maybe Bullock was also going to go after O'Brien's origins, before he he came to New Hampshire. He was from Massachusetts and he worked for Tom Finneran and, you know, was a Democrat. So he may say, is he is he truly, you know, is he truly a conservative Republican or is he you know, is he overcompensating when he was speaker come late to the party?

Peter Biello:
Mm hmm. Dean, I wanted to ask you something about something Anna just mentioned, which is that Bill O'Brien is painting himself as kind of an outsider. Given that he he's to the right of more people in his party than not. What do you think of that? Is is would that argument hold water? Is he an outsider?

Dean Spiliotes:
You know, Adam, I mean, he's been he's been in and around the political arena a long time, both as an elected official and as a conservative activist. He's headed a number of different groups over the years, focused on, you know, pushing a conservative agenda certainly in the state legislature. And I remember back when he was was speaker two 2000, 2011, really one of the first times we heard that the state legislative agenda kind of really start to kind of feed into what was going on nationally with the National Tea Party in some way, kind of nationalized conservative politics. And, you know, as as President Trump has taken over the Republican Party, in some sense, you know, you could argue, well, we'll see how he presents himself. But, you know, O'Brien does not strike me, you know, as an outsider in the classic sense of somebody who's new to politics. He may try to argue that his ideological positioning is outside of the mainstream. But we'll see. You know, that was interesting to see see, General, to go after him on that on that right away. But as Anna said, is going to be a lot of talk about socialism and democratic socialists and, you know, big government and all the usual stuff.

Peter Biello:
Before we get back into the Senate stuff, I just want to bring a piece of breaking news to our listeners. Annie Ropeik has been covering the state Supreme Court on their decision on whether or not to uphold the rejection of the Northern Pass Project. And she's letting us know now that the state Supreme Court is upholding the site evaluator's rejection of the Northern Pass Project. That's from NHPR's Annie Ropeik. And we will have Annie Ropeik on the program later in the hour. So stay tuned for that. But again, the state Supreme Court upholds site evaluators, site evaluators rejection of the Northern Pass Project, a decision we've been waiting on for for quite some time.

Peter Biello:
One more question for you about Senator Shaheen, Dean. As we reported, it was either early this week or late last week that that her fundraising numbers were kind of record breaking for the last quarter. Yeah, right. As I mentioned. And how much can we read into that, though? Like, what does that what does that tell us at this stage?

Dean Spiliotes:
Well, you know, I mean, she's she's always been been a strong fundraiser. And it's not not only not not only Senator Shaheen, but the fundraising totals for for Chris Pappas, Annie Kuster, both strong. I think Chris Pappas last quarter raised over three hundred thousand. Any Annie Kuster over 400000. I think they're up strongly. Anti Custer, I think has over a million on hand, I'm not sure about. But Chris Pappas, so strong fundraising numbers. You know, it's nuts. Shouldn't be shocking for an incumbent, but I think it kind of, you know, is in keeping with with Shaheen continued continued overall popularity. So it's Senate races. It's typically a little bit easier for challengers to raise money because it's higher profile. You get more outside players bringing money into the state a little bit harder for challenges at the at the House of Representatives level. So I'm not surprised to see her. If she's as I said, she's up to about almost 3 million in the bank.

Howard Altschiller:
And she's not taking it for granted either. I mean, she's been very aggressive about fundraising. I feel like I get something in my my inbox every other day marked urgent, you know. And, you know, for this reason, you must give us money now or, you know, life is you know, it will end. And, you know, she's a great campaigner to get the deepest roots in the state and she'll certainly be a formidable candidate.

Anna Brown:
And if you're looking back at the 2018 election, too, I mean, when Republicans lost at the state level in terms that they lost control of the House and Senate, they were looking and they said the Democrats had a much better fundraising network, an infrastructure going into this. And so I think we're seeing that again, a. The Democrats are very united and mobilized right now. So Shaheen is a very formidable opponent for any Republican.

Peter Biello:
Hmm. One more story to talk about before we go to a break, which is that New Hampshire joined a small number of states recognizing PTSD in first responders. And tell us a little bit about this legislation.

Anna Brown:
Sure. So this was recently signed by the governor. And so it expands the definition of injury under work, workers compensation to include PTSD, work related stress for firefighters, police officers and other first responders. So the idea is there's gonna be a commission to study the incidence of PTSD in first responders and whether it should be covered under worker's comp. So, yeah, it's this is definitely an issue that we're seeing, particularly related to the opioid crisis. I know that a lot of first responders, you know, all the overdoses that they're having to see that this is an issue. So New Hampshire's going to look in and see, you know, how how can we cover this? Because this is a big issue that's affecting a very important part of our health care workforce. Howard?

Howard Altschiller:
Well, we have to remember is that first responders are human beings and, you know, their job is to rush often into tragedy. And so they come on the scene of a horrific car accident. You know, we're young people are involved and that stays with them. There's a fire and they're seeing things, as Anna mentioned, the increasing incidence of overdoses. It takes its toll. And and PTSD can be cumulative. You know, it may not just be one thing, but over a period of time, being exposed to traumatic experiences can add up. And I think it's a good thing.

Peter Biello:
This is the weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on NH PR

Peter Biello:
We're gonna be talking about negotiations over the state budget. But right now, it's the weekly New Hampshire News Roundup. We're taking a look at the news of the past week. And we're also bringing you a bit of breaking news.

Peter Biello:
As of Friday morning, we're learning more details about the New Hampshire Supreme Court's decision to uphold the site evaluation committee's rejection of the Northern Pass transmission line. The justices voted unanimously and they said that every source did not prove that regulators didn't give its project fair consideration. Well, more to come with NHPR's Annie Ropeik on this story at about a quarter of 10. So in just about 20 minutes or so, we'll hear from any real peak on this story. Right now in the studio, we've got our panel of experts who know all about the week's news. Anna Brown, director of research and analysis at Citizens Count. Howard Altschiller, executive editor of the Seacoast Media Group, which includes the Portsmouth Herald and Foster's Daily, Democrat and Dean Spiliotes, civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Peter Biello:
And joining us for this part of the program is an HP reporter, Casey McDermott. Casey, welcome.

Casey McDermott:
Thanks for having me.

Peter Biello:
Casey, we have you in here because you've been reporting extensively on lobbying and lobbying data and lobbying regulations at the secretary of state's office. So we'd love to hear more about what you've been reporting on. You've been looking at information that is available and is not available. Can you talk a little bit about what is and what is not in what perhaps should be more available for transparency?

Casey McDermott:
Sure. So I think what might be helpful is if I just kind of set the stage for why we wanted to take a closer look at that. Please do so. Anyone who's spent any amount of time around the state house knows that there's these people shuffling or shuffling around all the time wearing orange badges. And those are the people who are registered as lobbyists. And sometimes they're, you know, at committee hearings, sometimes they're talking to lawmakers in the hallway. Sometimes they're just kind of they're like waiting for meetings that are that are not open to the public with lawmakers.

Peter Biello:
And these people are they they're working for nonprofits. They're working with private companies right now or they're lawyers hired by those companies and interest groups.

Casey McDermott:
So they are hired by nonprofits, by companies, by other groups that want representation on matters of legislation, on matters of public contracts before the executive council and on other matters before state agencies. So what we wanted to do was to just better understand, you know, who's lobbying. How is that changing over time? Who's lobbying in terms of the groups that are lobbying, but also who's actually doing the lobbying? So who are the lobbyists? Who are the ones with the most clients? What are the firms with the most clients? How is that changing over the last few years? And so one of the things that we were actually able to do is to get the registration data from the secretary of state's office. So anyone who is a lobbyist is required to register and provide information to the state about who they're lobbying for, what firm they're working for, if any. And you know where that firm is located, things of that nature. And those are all maintained by the secretary of state. And usually they're available in kind of PDF format online. But I learned that the secretary of state's office also maintains that in. Spreadsheet format, which is great if you want to just kind of look at a big batch of data and analyze it and try to look at some of those trends that we that we mentioned.

Casey McDermott:
So I spent a lot of time just kind of cleaning up that data because there were some like misspellings or just kind of inconsistencies in how people were at their names from year to year and ultimately was able to take a bigger look at some of those trends that we mentioned and what trends did you discover. So one of the things that we noticed was that there's been a slight uptick in registrations that are linked to out-of-state clients over the last few years relative to in-state clients. And it's not a huge leap, but it's enough that, you know, mirrors the observations of people who are actually in the lobbying space that I talked to that said that, yeah, they are actually getting, you know, more interest from people who are outside New Hampshire recently in matters of state policy. So that can be anything from, you know, a company like Apple that's taking an interest in legislation regarding the right to prepare your own devices or, you know, perhaps a company like Verizon or other national companies that would be affected in some way by legislation that's happening at the state level.

Peter Biello:
So it's not necessarily something nefarious that out-of-state lobbyists are?

Casey McDermott:
No, I mean, I don't want to assign a value judgment to this, but just you know, it's something that's pretty common across the country. And one of the things that's interesting, I think that I heard from from some of the lobbyists that I talked to is that they get the sense that people, you know, outside corporations or national groups are increasingly finding it harder to get things done or to advance their clients interests in Washington and in Congress because Congress is so dysfunctional. So they're turning more of their attention to the states.

Peter Biello:
Mm hmm. And as you searched for data, you realized that that some of the data was incomplete. In other words, lobbyists do have requirements on on when they have to file these reports and what information it should contain. So to what extent are lobbyists holding up their end of the deal and reporting stuff that they should be reporting?

Casey McDermott:
It's really all over the map. And it's funny, I was thinking about it. I feel like I've been writing a variation of the same story over and over and over again with different aspects of our system for tracking money and politics, because that's kind of my B is is, you know, money, influence and power at the State House is kind of a loose, you know, umbrella that that we think about with regard to the kind of stories that we want to do. So I look at things with campaign finance. I look at things with legislators, you know, disclosing what kind of financial interests they have. And over and over and over again, I find myself saying, you know, this information is technically reported, but the forms that it's reported on are not filled out consistently. And also no one is making sure that they're filled out consistency consistently. So there's really no enforcement for any kind of mistakes or intentional, you know, missing information on there. So there's there's not a lot of oversight provided.

Dean Spiliotes:
I'm wondering, Casey, is this a resource issue that the secretary of state's office doesn't have the the the resources to keep up on this? Or is there just a sense that people don't really care?

Casey McDermott:
I should I should clarify. The forms are filed with the secretary of state's office. But the actual enforcement, like many things, is handled by the attorney general's office and the election law unit. And I spoke with the attorney that's in charge of the election law unit. And he said that, you know, they would love to do more oversight of this, but they just don't have the staff and the bandwidth at the time. But I will say it's important to note that they've requested additional staff and additional resources as part of budget negotiations. And that attorney said that, you know, high on his priority list is doing a kind of audit of the lobbyist financial disclosures.

Peter Biello:
So if, let's say the state did have all the resources to keep a close eye on on lobbyists and whether or not they are filing correct disclosure forms on time, what are the penalties for?

Casey McDermott:
I to be honest, I don't know offhand because it's not you know, it's not really been widely enforced before. So we don't really have a record of how the state would handle it like they might with other areas of campaign finance violations.

Peter Biello:
So if I if I, as a citizen, just wanted to go somewhere to find out a little more about what lobbyists are talking to representatives from my district, well, where would I go? What would I have to do?

Casey McDermott:
So you could go to the secretary of state's website and actually. So so you're asking you're looking to find out if your lawmaker is talking to a lobbyist?

Peter Biello:
Yeah. Let's say I live in Concord.

Casey McDermott:
You would have to ask that lawmaker or ask the lobbyist. There's no record necessarily, as far as I'm aware, of each of those interactions, nor does there does there have to be. What we do have a record for is the amount of money that a lobbying that a lobbyist might be taking from the clients that they're representing, the amount of money that that lobbyist is spending on various lobbying activities. And there's actually a lot of room for interpret. Patient about what they're supposed to be reporting under those activities. And then we also have records of the amount of money that those lobbyists are spending on behalf of their clients in campaign donations to lawmakers. So that I think your question gets to a big missing piece of the puzzle is that there's not a good way for people to really understand, you know, on a detailed level, the the interactions that lobbyists are having.

Dean Spiliotes:
I'm curious, we talk a lot about our citizen legislature, volunteer legislators. You're covering this all the time. You're you're in the state, the halls of the state legislature all the time. Would people be surprised? Does it feel like there's a lot of lobbying going on and a lot of lobbyists around or not so much.

Casey McDermott:
So one of the things that was interesting was that when you actually look at the at the data, as far as I can tell, there's a lot of activity concentrated in a relatively small number of firms. So there are a number of firms that have, you know, 20, 30, even 40 clients in those specific groups. So those firms are made up of only a few people each. So there's a lot of you know, there's a lot of clients that are represented by a relatively small number of people. Now, on the other hand, there are also a lot of people who are there kind of in and out on single issue matters. So it's it's kind of all over the board. I will say I've heard anecdotally people say, you know, there's more lobbyists than lawmakers right now or there's. And that's actually not true. We looked at the data and there's about there's a little under I would say three. You know, it's not quite 400. Right now, there's a couple hundred lobbyists. Right.

Peter Biello:
So it's almost four hundred. Yes, almost 1 to 1.

Casey McDermott:
Yeah. So it's fluctuated over the last few years. But we. That was one of the things that we wanted to take a close look at as well, because I know that's been kind of a false talking point that I've heard.

Peter Biello:
Well, you can find the details to Casey McDermott's reporting on this at NHPR.org. Casey, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Casey McDermott:
Thank you.

Peter Biello:
Listeners. This is the weekly New Hampshire News Roundup. We'd love to hear your questions or comments. If you have them, send them by email. The address is exchange at an HP morgue. Howard Altschiller wanted to ask you about something that happened with the Portsmouth City Council this week. They voted Monday night to put off the decision to take over a federal property located downtown. Howard, can you tell us about the McIntyre building?

Howard Altschiller:
Right. Well, if you are anywhere near Portsmouth, this is all the people seem to be talking about. We could fill the entire paper with letters to the editor and an OP. Ed's on this issue.

Peter Biello:
Well, I'm curious why people feel so strongly about this building.

Howard Altschiller:
So first, for people who aren't that familiar with Portsmouth. This is right. It's two point one acres right in the heart of the city. And the city's been trying to get a hold of this property since 2004. And Judd Gregg at one point had actually gotten Congress to pass an act to turn the building over to the city. He had gotten the federal workers who work in that building land out at Pease, and it was all going to happen. And basically the federal government just kind of dragged its heels and it never happened. In 2017, it became part of the national register. And under that, the city was able to set up a deal where they could get the property for a dollar. And the city thought, well, that's a really good deal. And they set their priorities in their mind that they didn't want the taxpayers to pay any money.

Howard Altschiller:
They wanted to get something back on the tax rolls and they wanted to have a good developer come in and do the site. That all sounds good, but there's a large portion of the population that feel like they were shut out of the conversation and that the conversation was steered to achieve what the what the city council wanted rather than achieve a vision for the city. People are saying this is a once in a century opportunity to develop is prime piece of real estate. And and we're blowing it. We need to think big. We have to stop being so narrow minded, impractical, practical. And 600 of those people who are registered voters and confirmed signed a petition that was given to the council. And they have to have a hearing on that before they can vote on it. Now, the question is, are they going to really listen during the hearing or are they just going to go forward and do with what they think is best?

Peter Biello:
Ok. So can you spell out a little more clearly for me what what those people who are really interested in taking advantage of this property want to do with it? I mean, there was some plan, right, to turn into like some apartments and some commercial space. Yes.

Howard Altschiller:
But one of the limitations under this deal is that they have to keep this this building is like a 1960s concrete brick cheese grater style. I mean, there some people who will defend it architecturally, but there's a lot of people who want to see it knocked down with the cities, deal with the Park Service. They have to preserve the building as a national monument. And then they can turn it to something and they can turn it into something else. And they're talking about it, you know, being HubSpot. For example, has expressed interest in coming in, so they're talking about it being offices and retail and there is some community space that they're talking about having available year round. But the people who oppose it want more community space, want more access to views of the water and those kinds of things.

Peter Biello:
So so a real community debate here.

Howard Altschiller:
Exactly.

Peter Biello:
And so what is the next step? When when will they be making the decision.

Howard Altschiller:
So we have the hearing on the thirty first and then they could conceivably vote in August.

Peter Biello:
Okay.

Peter Biello:
Well, thank you very much for that, Howard. Really appreciate it. We're going to continue with the New Hampshire News Roundup in just a little while with Annie Ropeik of NHPR. She's been reporting on the Supreme Court's decision, the state Supreme Court's decision to uphold the denial of the Northern Pass Project. We'll hear from her in just a little bit. This is The Exchange on NH PR.

Peter Biello:
This is the weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on NH PR. I'm Peter Biello here in the studio with Anna Brown, director of research and analysis at Citizens Count. Howard Altschiller, Altschiller, executive editor of the Seacoast Media Group, which includes the Portsmouth Herald and Foster's Daily Democrat and Dean Spiliotes, civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at an at S NH U. And also joining us for this part of the program is an HP Bars. Annie Ropeik.

Annie Ropeik:
Hi, Peter.

Peter Biello:
So it is 9, 44 and 44 minutes ago, we learned that the state Supreme Court decided to uphold the site evaluation committee's rejection of the Northern Pass Project. I'm sure we're gonna have more comprehensive reporting on this as the day progresses. So by the time the rebroadcast is on, people can check and HP board for for your report. But for now, any you're absorbing this decision. What what what are your takeaways from this decision?

Annie Ropeik:
The sound of me still actively absorbing it. So the basic takeaway is the Northern Pass project in its current form appears to be dead in the water for real this time. This is the state Supreme Court siding with the site evaluation committee, saying that the law clearly states that the burden of proof is on every source to make its case that the project meets various tests of code and that the S.E.C. did what it needed to do to find that every source didn't meet that burden of proof. I would say that this decision does not appear to make many broader statements outside the bounds of this particular case.

Annie Ropeik:
I mean, one question I had going into this was whether we would see any other precedents set by this or commentary on the FCC rules more broadly. And so far, I haven't really gleaned that from just my skimming of this decision. I noticed just now that they they say they don't want to deal with the question that our source pose of whether the site evaluation committee's rules are quote unquote, unconstitutionally vague.

Annie Ropeik:
The Supreme Court has said that argument is not developed enough in this case and we're not going to touch it at all. They also technically didn't touch the question of whether the site evaluation committee is required to consider all of the tests of code as opposed to just the couple that they did, which was an argument ever source made initially. But I think after a lot of actors have said that's not really found in statute, they said directly to the Supreme Court. We're going to concede on that point and not argue it. And so the Supreme Court didn't address that either, which means technically we have no written ruling that addresses that, which means it could always come up at a later time.

Annie Ropeik:
But generally speaking, the Supreme Court is saying every source just didn't do what it needed to do. We get this project over the finish line. The FCC was right to find that and they are affirming their ruling. And what is ever source said about that? Ever source says they're deeply disappointed in the decision. They appreciate the consideration and deliberation that the case received. They say that this is unquote, a, quote, unfortunate setback to efforts to advance an affordable, clean energy future for the region. And they say they'll review the decision and further options.

Annie Ropeik:
I think that the statement we've received so far has not been quite as sort of outraged or determined sounding maybe as some past statements where they really seem to feel like there was a clear injustice that they could fight. So it sounds to me like we may not see like an instant appeal on this. They always have the option to retool the project from scratch and reapply to the FCC. That's what happened in the Antrim wind case, and that's how it eventually got approved. That's sort of how the process is supposed to work.

Annie Ropeik:
If they get denied, they can fix the problems and reapply and get a new consideration. So it's possible we will see something like that of resources that they still want to try to get this thing built somehow. But I think we're you know, we really are at the end of this chapter of the Northern Pass story, and it'll take a long time before we kind of see what comes next.

Dean Spiliotes:
And wasn't there a time when this aspect to this in the sense of needing to get this project up and running so that they could sign these long term energy contracts? And now you have states basically looking at other potential projects anyway, which may reduce the the urgency of them coming right back to the drawing board.

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, that's right. I mean, they already sort of had lost their urgency when the... So it was it was a crazy order of operations. The state of Massachusetts had this request for big energy proposals out there that they had picked northern path to be their winner of that big contract. They were going to supply all this clean energy they wanted to buy through the Northern Pass project. And just days after that decision was made, the FCC came out with this rejection that's now been upheld. And Massachusetts said, OK, hang on a minute. We don't know what's going to happen here. This is an unexpected twist in the story. And they've actually ended up moving to a similar project in Maine, which we should note is still also in its permitting process. So who knows?

Dean Spiliotes:
Maybe it'll come back around..

Annie Ropeik:
Right. And so Northern Pass, if they were able to get it built, didn't have a buyer. And they were going to need to find that as part of the development process, which you're right, is a major setback for them.

Peter Biello:
Okay. Well, keep in mind, listeners, you can always go to NHPR.orgfor the latest updates on today's decision by the state supreme court. Annie while you here when I ask you about another story in the news this week, you were at the JLCAR meeting yesterday at which New Hampshire adopted. It's the most sweeping limits in the country for four P fast chemical contamination in drinking water, first of all. JLCAR, can you tell us what what that is and what they're supposed to do?

Annie Ropeik:
Yes, this is the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. So they are responsible not for setting policy, but just for approving like the letter of the law through which policy is carried out. So the legislature in this case directed the Department of Environmental Services to set limits on PFAS in drinking water. DES came up with some numbers that it thought were supported by science. Wrote those out in specific rules of how they were to be followed by public water systems, brought those to JLCAR and JLCAR was approving the instructions basically to follow those rules to public water systems. And they did that in pretty short order yesterday.

Annie Ropeik:
And that. Yeah. Yes.

Peter Biello:
And so. So when do they kick in? One of these standards start?

Annie Ropeik:
So they start in October and the first year or so of the rules will just be testing regimens, basically. So all the public water systems in the state, as well as abuse landfills, wastewater treatment plants, certain other hazardous waste sites are going to have to begin testing the water that they're either sending to your taps or putting into the groundwater for four of these people's chemicals. And we should remind folks, these are industrial substances. They were used in product like Teflon, been found in groundwater all over the state and have been linked in some studies to health effects, kidney, liver disease, high cholesterol, developmental problems, potentially some cancers. And so people are gonna have to test for these things.

Howard Altschiller:
And then if they find sort of an elevated average over the next year, they will begin to plant treatment for how they're going to deal with it, how it all shall we say, we were somewhat surprised in our newsroom that that they did approve this because it first the DES had not been receptive to this in the past. And it's going to be very, very expensive for communities and businesses to go forward and address this, just, for example, for the Pease PFAS pollution. They are, you know, christening a fourteen point three million dollar treatment facility next week funded by the Air Force. Funded by the Air Force. Exactly. And with the Coakley landfill, you know, there's been this drift of PFAS chemicals out, but they've always been below the 70 parts per trillion of the federal standard. Well, now a lot of the private wells, they're around that area will actually be considered not healthy. And the Coakley Landfill Group is gonna have to address that.

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, that's right. I mean, there's a lot of sites that are automatically going to be affected by this and that. No, they're automatically going to be affected. The state has said they're talking to at least eight or 10 public water systems that know they're going to be out of compliance as soon as these rules kick in so they can kind of get ahead of this and begin planning treatment. But Howard's right, it is going to be incredibly expensive, up to nearly 200 million dollars over the next couple of years total. And there was some debate at John Kerry yesterday about whether this constitutes an unfunded mandate that would violate the state constitution. But the attorney general's office has said they don't think that's the case. And in the end, JLCAR sided with them.

Peter Biello:
So it's unlikely that this is going to face any kind of formal challenge.

Annie Ropeik:
Oh, I would not say that.

Peter Biello:
OK.

Annie Ropeik:
Absolutely.

Howard Altschiller:
And just remember, also, there's a lawsuit now that the state has filed against the manufacturers of all these, which coincidentally is more than two hundred million dollars potentially in funds coming to the state, which could be used to mitigate the damage of actually forced chemicals into.

Anna Brown:
Well, I think that this is also going to come into whatever budget compromise the legislators and the governor come up with, because the budget that went to the governor included about six billion dollars to start with DES helping out with maybe planning house towns could do these treatment projects going forward. So there might be more money on the table potentially for towns.

Annie Ropeik:
I think that, you know, what I've been hearing from towns is that the existing funding that's available, even if there is six million that comes through in the final budget, that all of that doesn't even begin to cover the long term costs of this. That's at least what they're arguing. And so I think we can expect to see more action around the cost side of this as these rules begin to kick in. I also just got a statement from the governor's office on Northern Pass.

Peter Biello:
Please let us know. Yes.

Annie Ropeik:
The governor says the court has made it clear it's time to move on. There are many clean energy projects that lower electric rates to explore and develop for New Hampshire and the rest of New England. So that's that from Governor Sununu on Northern Pass I guess.

Peter Biello:
And that should be it for us as well. Any. Thank you very much for being here on the program today. Really appreciate it.

Annie Ropeik:
Thank you.

Peter Biello:
That's NHPR's Annie Ropeik could find her stories at NHPR.org. Thanks also to Casey McDermott of NH PA for joining us earlier in the program. Thanks to Anna Brown, director of research and analysis at Citizens Count. Howard Altschiller, executive editor of the Seacoast Media Group. And Dean Spiliotes civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences. Thank you all for being here. Thanks, Peter. Remember, this conversation continues online on Facebook and at an HP morgue. The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. I'm Peter Biello. Hope you stay cool this weekend.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NH PR, its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you'd liked what you heard, spread the word. Give us a review on Apple podcasts to help other listeners find us. Thanks.