New Hampshire won’t join Clean Power plan suit – at least not yet

Associate AG: ‘The final rule has not come out yet, so it is not fully baked’

New Hampshire is not rushing to join several neighboring states in threatening to sue the federal government over the Environmental Protection Agency’s announced intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

“We are moderating the rulemaking process, looking at what impacts, if any, it has on our state and what actions we might take,” said Associate Attorney General James Vara. “The final rule has not come out yet, so it is not fully baked.”

On Oct. 6, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the agency planned to scrap the plan promulgated by the agency under President Obama, kicking off the start of a long rulemaking process requiring public comment. But that hasn’t stopped several attorneys general from announcing their intention to sue days afterward, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and California.

Indeed, 17 states – including every New England state except New Hampshire – and six municipalities have already filed suit against the plan.

The Clean Power Plan, designed to combat climate change, aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost a third by 2030 by requiring individual states to meet specific reduction standards. States had to submit their own plan by September 2018 or the EPA would impose its own.

The Trump administration and many conservatives contended that the rule was instituted without legislation and therefore is not legal. It has also argued that it would increase utility bills and hurt the coal industry.

Backers of the plan mainly talk about the environmental impacts of the repeal. But there were also some economic benefits to the region, especially after the plan was in essence backdated, allowing New Hampshire and other states that participate in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to count the progress made under that cap-and-trade program.

“We were very pleased by the second version that our participation would satisfy the requirement,” said Mike Fitzgerald, assistant director of the NH Air Resources Division. “It requires much more from heavy fossil fuel-using states, so we were very supportive.”

Other states “depending on cheap coal that were not trying to lower their emissions put us at a competitive disadvantage,” said Charles Niebling, a principal of Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, a renewable energy consulting business based in Concord. The Clean Power Plan, he said, would have leveled the playing field.

“RGGI was our ticket to the Clean Power Plan,” said Roger Stephenson, principal of Stephenson Strategic Communications in Stratham, who works with a number of environmental groups.. “We were able to tie New Hampshire into a big red bow and call it a gift.”

Fitzgerald echoed Vara in emphasizing that the EPA announcement doesn’t mean that the rule is over. The administration would first have to show that there is “no endangerment” in the carbon emissions, and even that is sure to be challenged administratively and in the courts.

“I think there will be substantial litigation,” Fitzgerald said. “The governor or the attorney general has not come to us for advice, but there will be plenty of time for that.”

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