Koch-funded network targets New Hampshire’s renewable energy policies

And a battle over Virginia's carbon emissions-reduction program could be next.

Koch-funded groups are hoping New Hampshire's Republican governor, Chris Sununu, supports their efforts to weaken the state's clean energy policies. CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Koch-funded groups are hoping New Hampshire's Republican governor, Chris Sununu, supports their efforts to weaken the state's clean energy policies. CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

With a Republican in the governor’s mansion, multiple organizations backed by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch are ramping up their efforts to convince New Hampshire policymakers to weaken the state’s renewable energy policies.

In a new report, Strata Policy — a pro-fossil fuel think tank based in Logan, Utah, that receives funding from the Kochs — recommends that New Hampshire lawmakers change the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) from a mandate to a voluntary goal for electricity providers, a move that would put the brakes on efforts to develop renewable energy technologies and reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

As part of its pro-fossil fuel agenda, Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing group also funded by the Kochs, is pushing for changes to New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state carbon trading program.

After a 12-year run of Democratic governors in New Hampshire, an anti-renewable energy bill is now more likely to pass with Gov. Chris Sununu (R) in office, Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, told ThinkProgress. “There was little support here for passing these bills, outside the Koch world, earlier this year, but they seem to have some momentum going into 2018,” said Anderson, who lives in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity has supported state lawmakers’ attempts to force the state out of RGGI. Over the years, Americans for Prosperity and other Koch groups have targeted climate action initiatives — even if those measures are market-based like RGGI — as part of their goal to thwart governments at all levels from using their powers to implement any policies and regulations related to climate change.

If New Hampshire opts not to leave RGGI, Strata Policy, in its report, suggests the state should use the funds it receives from the regional compact as customer rebates, rather than investing the revenue in energy efficiency and clean energy programs.

The Strata Policy report, “Practical Reforms to Provide Affordable Energy in New Hampshire,” was co-branded with the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Another arm of the Koch network, the Charles Koch Foundation, donated $1.7 million to Strata Policy in 2016. That donation came on top of the $2.3 million the foundation gave the organization from 2011 to 2015, according to data provided by Conservative TransparencyGuidestar, and CitizenAudit.

Americans for Prosperity has made it known that it would be working to undo New Hampshire’s renewable energy policies. Earlier this year, Greg Moore, state director for the Koch-backed group, testified against RGGI and the RPS in the state legislature. A total of 29 states currently have RPS policies on the books, the same number as when the Koch network launched its anti-RPS campaign back in 2012, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, a utility watchdog organization.

Virginia is another state expected to enter the Koch network’s crosshairs. Following its recent gubernatorial election, officials are expected to move forward with plans for a statewide cap-and-trade program, starting in 2020. Virginia voters elected Ralph Northam (D) to succeed fellow Democrat Terry McAuliffe as governor.

Under the McAuliffe administration’s plan, Virginia would “link” with RGGI as part of the state’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by power plants on the same schedule as the official member states in the regional compact. By only linking with RGGI, rather than joining the regional compact as a full member, Virginia officials would not need to get legislative approval to implement the plan.

And yet, Koch-funded groups could seek to push businesses in the state, including the powerful Dominion Energy, owner of the dominant electric utility in the state, to lobby the administration against moving forward with the plan. A Dominion spokesperson said in a statement to Jim Pierobon at Southeast Energy News that “while we haven’t yet had a chance to fully study the state’s draft proposal, we expect to meet whatever regulatory requirements result.”

Pierobon also reported that the Virginia General Assembly, controlled by Republicans, could undermine the plan by passing legislation that rolls back the authority of the state Department of Environmental Quality to address carbon dioxide emissions.

Americans for Prosperity denounced the plan as an attempt to force “an anti-growth agenda” upon the state. “Implementing cap-and-trade in Virginia would put our economy at a competitive disadvantage to other states and harm our most fragile communities that depend on jobs in resource-based industries,” AFP-Virginia director J.C. Hernandez said in a statement. “Innovation, not bureaucratic schemes like RGGI, is the key to reducing carbon emissions.”

In New Hampshire, clean energy supporters remain unsure where Sununu, who entered office in January, stands on the issue. In September, he issued a proclamation stating that “clean energy is an important part of New Hampshire’s energy future” and “has been a driver of economic growth” in the state.

In December 2016, when he was governor-elect, Sununu said he would consider withdrawing New Hampshire from RGGI if other states in the region did so as well. In August, though, Sununu offered praise for new goals proposed by RGGI, New Hampshire Public Radio reported. Among other things, the RGGI proposal would require a 30-percent reduction in power plant emissions between 2020 and 2030.

The governor’s office did not respond to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment on whether Sununu would sign legislation that eliminated the state RPS or called for the state’s withdrawal from RGGI.

His predecessor, Maggie Hassan (D), vetoed a series of bills in 2015 that would have repealed the state’s RPS and withdrawn the state from RGGI, but as a Republican, Sununu may feel pressure to sign an anti-renewable energy bill that comes out of the Republican-controlled state legislature.

During his campaign for governor in 2016, Sununu received campaign donations from C. Boyden Gray, a long-time Republican official who supports the Trump administration’s regulatory rollback at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Charif Souki, a major figure in the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals, according to campaign finance records.

Josh Smith, lead author of the Strata Policy study, traveled to New Hampshire to present his findings to state business leaders earlier this month, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. The report says New Hampshire should “use a goal instead of a mandate to mitigate the economic costs and forgone jobs associated with RPS.” It also calls for the state to “prevent Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Funds from being used for non-environmental purposes.”

“This report is just another cut-and-paste iteration of the Koch-funded work this group has done all around the country. It isn’t accurate or helpful to New Hampshire,” Kate Epsen, executive director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, told the NH Business Review.

Strata Policy has issued similar reports criticizing clean energy policies in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina. The reports often suggest the states’ renewable energy policies lead to higher electricity prices and contribute to unemployment.

Analysts who have reviewed Strata Policy’s methodology in its state studies have found major errors. When those errors are corrected, the study results actually confirm that state renewable energy portfolio standards, such as the one in Kansas, create hundreds of jobs and save consumers tens of millions of dollars, Michael Goggin, senior director of research at the American Wind Energy Association, wrote in a blog post.

New Hampshire was one of RGGI’s founding states. Since then, the state has awarded more than $31 million to 36 different energy efficiency projects and programs, according to a Greenpeace report. Ever since RGGI’s launch 10 years ago, Koch-funded groups have sought to undermine its goals and discredit its achievements.

“Koch-funded front groups — led by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — joined right wing mouthpieces like Glenn Beck and others who labeled RGGI a ‘cap and tax’ initiative. Conservative activist Clint Woods of the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) stated that RGGI and other regional cap-and-trade regimes had become the ‘new battlefield’ since federal climate legislation was defeated,” Greenpeace researchers wrote in the report.

The New Hampshire House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee voted in October to approve a measure to rebate all funds from RGGI back to customers, rather than investing some portion in energy efficiency programs. As originally proposed, H.B. 592 would have pulled the state out of RGGI entirely. The revised bill would cut the use of funds received through RGGI on efficiency spending, a move advocates say will mostly hurt low-income families. The measure will head to the full House of Representatives when it meets early next year.

New Hampshire Rep. Bart Fromuth (R) has been fighting for years to repeal the state’s RPS bill. Fromuth received a $200 campaign contribution in 2016 from Moore, the state director of American for Prosperity. Fromuth also is the chief operating officer of Freedom Energy Logistics, according to the Energy and Policy Institute. The corporate portfolio of Freedom Energy Logistics includes competitive electricity suppliers, such as Resident Power and PNE Energy Supply, that are subject to the state’s RPS.

The Energy and Policy Institute’s Anderson wishes climate-minded lawmakers could move on from playing defense against efforts by Koch-funded politicians and right-wing groups seeking to roll back renewable portfolio standards and greenhouse gas emission-reduction programs. “The legislature could be having conversations about improving upon our clean energy policies rather than rehashing these annual fights over whether we should pull out of RGGI and the RPS,” he said.