Home heat bill may be reborn

When the New Hampshire Legislature meets next week to consider Gov. John Lynch’s vetoes, most of the attention will be on overturning his rejection of a bill legalizing medical marijuana. However, another bill will be on the agenda as well – one dealing with home heating oil.

Lynch vetoed House Bill 443 in the last session. It originally was based on model legislation for requirements to train operators of underground petroleum storage facilities. However, the Senate amended the bill to better regulate prepaid price plans for heating oil. The governor vetoed it in July – a veto that is expected to be upheld on Oct. 28, when lawmakers meet.

Lynch objected to the Senate provision that would allow prepaid or capped-price contracts to be offered no earlier than May of the year in which the heating oil season begins. That would give consumers four months less time to enter such contracts and prevent them from getting the best prices for oil, Lynch wrote in his veto message. Lynch did say he supported the original bill.

Even before lawmakers prepare to vote on that veto, Rep. Chris Christensen, R-Merrimack, and the chair of the Oil Fund Disbursement board, has already given notice that he plans to reintroduce that original bill.

The bill — which at the time would not have gone into effect until August 2012 — sets out three classes of operators: those who have primary responsibility in running the operation; the second designated to deal with regulatory requirements, operation and maintenance; and the third dealing with those who have primary responsibility to respond to alarms.

The state Department of Environmental Service has to approve of the training program.

The bill also requires operators to make monthly visual inspections and record those inspections in a report available for inspection for at least three years. Operations would have 30 days to fix any defects

Christensen also is interested in other bills related to the work of the board:

• One would loosen eligibility requirements governing who can use the underground storage cleanup fund. At present, only the owner can request cleanup assistance and reimbursement, which can prevent the transfer of property to another who might be better able to clean up and develop a contaminated site. Christensen would like to transfer that eligibility, so to make site cleanup progress more easily.
• Another would make permanent the temporary quarter-cent increase on the penny-a-gallon home heating oil tax passed last year.
• A third measure would make the motor oil discharge fund permanent. This is funded by a small tax on gas.

Without these various funds, said Christensen, businesses and municipalities could be in trouble, because it is hard to get private insurance, and the cleanup costs can be astronomical. Businesses will still have to pay something – there is a deductible – but this makes sure one leaky underground storage tank or a fuel oil spill in the basement of a corner store, won’t put someone out of business, he said. – BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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