New Hampshire — long an outlier among New England states on climate action — is on its way to creating a new climate plan for the first time in 14 years.
The state budget adopted last week includes a $3 million federal grant from a program intended to support the development of climate action plans across the country.
“We’re definitely very excited about this — we think it’s a great opportunity for the state,” said Chris Skoglund, director of energy transition at the nonprofit Clean Energy New Hampshire.
Among residents there is a widespread sense of pride in New Hampshire’s tendency to follow its own path and buck conventional wisdom, an attitude that extends firmly into energy and climate policies, advocates have said. The state is not necessarily against climate action, but is determined to make its own policies, its own way, rather than just repeating the choices of other states, said Meredith Hatfield, associate director for policy and government relations for the Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire.
Today, while the other New England states all have, to various degrees, ambitious state-mandated climate goals and updated climate plans, New Hampshire has no binding targets for lowering emissions or reducing fossil fuel use.
“There’s a sentiment among some people in New Hampshire that we aren’t going to follow the traditional recipe — we like to figure things out on our own,” Hatfield said. “We are making progress, but it’s just not fast enough.”
In 2009, the state developed a broad-based climate action plan that incorporated the work of dozens of stakeholders across diverse fields. Though that document had some influence on legislation in subsequent years, it was never codified into law or updated after its initial release.
An opportunity for action
The federal Inflation Reduction Act, which became law in August 2022, created an opportunity for New Hampshire to dive back into climate planning.
The law includes $5 billion for the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program. Of this total, $250 million has been designated to help states, local governments, tribes, and territories develop or update plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Another $4.6 billion will then be available to help implement these plans.
When applications for the first phase of the program opened in late February, the state’s Department of Environmental Services jumped at the chance and applied. At the end of June, the state adopted a two-year, $15.2 billion budget that included this grant money in the department funding, an essential step in pushing the climate plan project forward.
The state is now in final discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about minor revisions to how much of the grant money will be spent on what elements of the planning process, said Michael Fitzgerald, assistant director of the state environmental services department. Though early plans are still tentative, the money will likely pay for new positions to manage the process, as well as a broad outreach strategy intended to gather feedback from a range of stakeholders, Fitzgerald said.
“We’re planning on doing focused work in disadvantaged areas,” he said. “There are requirements that there be consideration of ensuring benefits go to environmental justice areas.”
Grants are likely to be awarded in July and August, according to information from the EPA. States and territories that receive the grants will have until March 1, 2024, to deliver their completed plans. The EPA anticipates announcing the final details for the implementation grants in September 2023, with applications likely being due the following April.
Four states — Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and South Dakota — declined to apply for the planning grant money. The remaining 46, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, all submitted applications.
Advocates are optimistic that the new plan, when completed, could gain more traction than its predecessor.
There was a lot to like about the 2009 plan, Skoglund said. By convening so many people with such a wide range of expertise, he said, the plan was able to build widespread knowledge of, and support for, climate action.
And advocates said it did have some impact on state climate and energy policy. New Hampshire’s energy efficiency goals and energy performance targets for new buildings were influenced by the plan, Skoglund said. The plan also bolstered the state’s continued participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and helped spark an investigation into grid modernization in the state.
Implementation, however, never gained momentum and there were no efforts made to keep the plan up-to-date.
“There was no follow-up to keep that conversation going at high levels,” Skoglund said. “But we didn’t continue that, so we are now a decade behind.”
This time around, advocates would like to see the state replicate the strengths of the 2009 process, particularly the inclusion of a wide range of voices, while making more impact on policy changes. They expect — and hope for — the ultimate plan to have a strong focus on the economic development, cost savings, and job creation that a shift to clean energy can offer, backed up by rigorous analysis.
“People are aware of what is happening and they are concerned about it,” Hatfield said. “We need to do a better job of connecting the solutions with what people are worried about.”
Though the national conversation about climate action has become more polarized in recent years, New Hampshire’s unique character might make the state a place where a broad consensus can be reached, advocates said. The deep national divide between the parties isn’t as evident in pragmatic New Hampshire, where opportunities to save money could carry more weight than the chance to score partisan points, said Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire.
“There still is a surprising amount of bipartisanship,” he said. “I think money-saving clean energy technologies can be popular here on a bipartisan basis.”