Environmental bills add up in ‘04 Legislature

Two controversial environmental projects have sparked legislation this year, one dealing with water and one dealing with air. They are just some of the environmental bills that might affect business.

A plan to convert the Bio Energy wood burner to burn construction and demolition debris in Hopkinton has caused Rep. Richard “Stretch” Kennedy, R-Contoocook, to sponsor a bill that would forbid the emission of toxic chemicals near a school. The bill isn’t out yet, and Kennedy said he wasn’t sure what distance would be included in the legislation.

The state Department of Environmental Services has permitted the plant to emit more than 2.6 tons of lead a year at the site, which is within five miles of four public schools. Bio Energy officials say that it will actually emit less lead, and DES insists that the level of lead emissions is safe, but news of the permit approval has sparked a storm of protest, resulting in challenges at the local and federal levels. That storm has apparently swept the normally conservative Kennedy, who represents the area.

“I’m not known for being a liberal environmentalist,” said Kennedy. “But the idea of making nickels and dimes off of maiming children doesn’t sit well with any persuasion. You just don’t dump lead onto schoolchildren. They put a landlord out of business because he has lead on a windowsill that a kid has to chew off, and then they let this stuff in the air? What are parents going to do? Tell their kids not to breath?”

A proposal by USA Springs to withdraw and bottle some 300,000 gallons a year from a site in Nottingham led Rep. Mark S. Carter, R-Peterborough, to introduce a bill that would charge companies $5 a gallon for bottled water withdrawal.

“The idea is our state water is resourced by the public,” Carter said. “Bottled water can not be a straw that will pump these resources dry. New Hampshire can not water the world.”

The bill would not affect existing bottled water withdrawals, but it could put the final nail in the coffin to the USA Springs project, for which the state DES has denied a permit after the firm invested millions of dollars in the project. USA Springs’ owners say they plan to fight the DES ruling, and complain that the state appears to be singling out the bottled water company while leaving heavier commercial uses of groundwater — industry and golf courses — alone.

Carter argues that there is a difference between using water on the premises as opposed to withdrawing it and selling it out of the area.

Speaking of bottled beverages, there will be another attempt to require retailers to buy back reusable plastic bottles, as is done in most New England states, to reduce litter and increase recycling. The New Hampshire Retail Merchants Association will be opposing this bill, as will the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Mercury also is an issue facing legislators in the 2004 session. No matter what happens to House Bill 366, a partial ban on specific mercury products, Sen. Burt Cohen, D-New Castle, and Rep. James Phinizy, D-Acworth, will reintroduce the original legislation, an outright disposal ban on mercury.

Some legislators will oppose even a partial ban, arguing that it will prevent the use of dependable mercury thermostats, which regulate energy uses and help reduce pollution.

But Phinizy counters that non-mercury substitutes also are reliable, and that environmental laws such as the one he’s proposing not only protect residents but help environmental businesses grow.

“Clean environment makes good business,” Phinizy said.

The two lawmakers also will bring back a bill that would require that the waste-to-energy incinerator in Claremont meet the same mercury standards as those met by a similar facility in Concord.

Also relating to incineration, Rep. George Musler, R-Barrington, has sponsored legislation that would ban future medical waste incinerators — a large contributor to mercury emission.

The bill doesn’t address an existing problem because no hospital has been planning to build one, said Mike Hill, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. Such waste is increasingly disposed of off-site.

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