NASHUA BULLETIN                           January 22, 2016
Bulletin No. 3
 
Welcome to the Chamber's weekly legislative newsletter, The Advocate!  This newsletter is our recap of what happened in Concord each week during the legislative session, and a preview of what is coming up in the following week that pertains to various business interests. Although we will be letting you know about legislation that we think is of note, don't hesitate to tell us about bills that you may be familiar with and which you think are worth our review. We exist to serve you, our members.

Natural Gas Pipeline Legislation Begins To Flow
Not many topics have generated more attention in the legislature this year than the natural gas pipeline being developed by Kinder Morgan in this part of the state.  A number of bills have been filed with the goal of taxing or regulating the construction of that pipeline, and seven of those bills had hearings this week. To give you a sense of the range of the bills, this week's hearings featured:
 
  • HB 1544 (levying a one percent tax on revenues from contracts for natural gas transmission);
  • HB 1101 (prohibiting New Hampshire citizens from being charged for construction of a high pressure gas pipeline that is directly or indirectly connected to an export terminal);
  • HB 1472 (requiring pipeline to be installed below the frost line);
  • HB 1174 (requiring natural gas transmission compressor stations to have external sources of energy);
  • HB 1140 (requiring gas pipeline owners to maintain certain levels of insurance or bonding);
  • HB 1145 (creating new standards for PUC review of gas pipeline capacity contracts).
 
There are some important issues afoot here. No one can have any doubt that the pipeline is a matter of major concern for some who live and run businesses in the area. On the other hand, there are extensive processes in place today that govern the review, approval, siting, construction, maintenance, and regulation of gas pipelines. All of this is in the hands of the NH Public Utilities Commission and the NH Site Evaluation Committee, and especially the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has wide and preemptive jurisdiction over gas pipelines like the Kinder Morgan pipeline. 
 
There are several principles which are going to be governing the Chamber's review of these bills.
 
First, the overriding principle by which these bills should be judged is their impact on energy prices in New Hampshire. Will the bills contribute to a reduction in energy costs to New Hampshire customers, or will they result in continuing escalation of energy prices?
 
Second, do the bills attempt to create new types of state requirements in areas where FERC has ultimate jurisdiction? If so, then the state laws will be meaningless, and at best they can only lead to unintended consequences in areas which are not being contemplated at present (which is never a good thing). 
 
Third, can the concerns of New Hampshire citizens be brought before existing bodies (such as FERC, the NHPUC and the NHSEC) under statutes and rules that already exist?
 
And finally, as we repeatedly said during the early days of the Northern Pass controversy, we think the legislature should be wary of the practice of creating special laws for particular projects. Despite the robust review and approval procedures that already exist with respect to energy projects in this state, it seems to have become routine, when new energy projects are proposed, to see numbers of bills filed that look to change how the project will be reviewed or approved or regulated. Now, sometimes that sort of thing certainly is necessary (if, for example, there is some notable hole in the regulatory process that no one has previously recognized). But since businesses crave certainty, and without that we place an obstacle in the path of businesses relocating into and/or expanding in the area, we think it is important to consider whether the processes that are in place right now are so inadequate as to outweigh the principle that legislation works best when it is not directed at a particular project or entity. 
 
We will keep you updated on where we go on this and what happens on these bills.

How To Pay For Roads And Bridges (HB 1602)
Readers of The Advocate will remember that the Chamber was an early supporter of the legislation in 2014 that provided some additional funding for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges through an increase in the gas tax.  We supported that proposal because the Chamber recognized that the state's transportation infrastructure is essential to the economic well-being of New Hampshire. As you know, that legislation was passed, and additional dollars have indeed gone to roads and bridges.
 
One issue that cropped up during those discussions and that has continued to develop with increasing urgency is the question of whether the gas tax is slowly becoming obsolete as an accurate proxy for how much a person is using roads and bridges (it is a long-standing tenet in New Hampshire that roads and bridges should be paid for by the people who use the infrastructure). The gas tax was clearly a good metric when every vehicle on the road was fueled by gasoline, because the more people used the roads, the more gas they needed to purchase. With the increase in the numbers of hybrid and electric vehicles that are out there, however, it is clear that this old approach is no longer effective because now there are a number of vehicles on the roads which do not use gas and whose drivers thus do not pay the gas tax.
 
All of this led Representative Norm Major, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, to file HB 1602 (Nashua's own Rep. Bill Ohm is a co-sponsor). Under HB 1602, the state would raise additional highway and bridge revenue from a highway usage fee that would be collected at the time of registering the vehicle.  The bill starts from the presumption that a person who drives 13, 500 miles in a year will pay about $150 in gas tax.  The legislation is designed to collect a $150 road usage fee on non-commercial vehicles, a fee which would be determined by figuring (based on the EPA mileage rating for your vehicle) how much gas tax you would have paid if you drove 13,500 miles. The road usage fee would be the difference between that number and $150 (if the number is over $150, of course, you would pay no road usage fee).
 
The bill met with opposition from owners of electric vehicles, who say that it would provide a disincentive to purchase those types of vehicles. It strikes us, however, that a $150 fee is too low to act as a disincentive, and in any event that this is a fair way of trying to ensure that all highway users contribute to maintaining transportation infrastructure.
 

ON TO DENVER!! (OK, we're advocating for the Patriots with (no) apologies to any  Broncos fans in our readership!

 
Tracy Hatch
President & CEO
Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce 
Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

In This Issue
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January 15th, 2016
January 11th, 2016
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