Good news often travels more slowly than bad, so in case you have not heard, the Senate passed HB 648 today. The “test” vote was 16-8; the final vote came in at a nearly unanimous 23-1. The bill is now being reconciled between the House and Senate and then must go to the governor for signing into law.
In an eloquent statement introducing the Bragdon/Forrester amendment, Senator Jeanie Forrester said that, in the wake of 12-a, the Legislature in 2007 passed eight state laws outlawing eminent domain, but omitted the law governing public utilities. “This is the first test of the true purpose of Article 12-A and the landowners along Northern Pass can’t afford for us to fail this test,” Forrester said.
After the bill was passed, Senate President Peter Bragdon remarked that he “believes Northern Pass could never qualify to use eminent domain with the new language in the legislation.’I’m very confident it’s air tight,’ Bragdon said.”
And summing up the wider implications of the bill’s passage, Will Abbott declared that “it’s a good day for the Constitution. It’s a good day for property owners.”
Northern Pass and Senator Jeb Bradley warned that HB 648 outsources the eminent domain decision to ISO-New England. This is entirely incorrect. Please refute it if you see it pop up. All HB 648 as amended does is to eliminate a class of public utility projects from the potential to apply for eminent domain under 371:1. Any decision on whether or not to grant eminent domain for projects eligible to apply remains 100% a NH PUC decision.
In its project journal entry today, Northern Pass first argues that its project is “not predicated on the use of eminent domain,” but that a new policy at FERC might make it eligible for eminent domain. NP “look[s] forward to working with federal and regional regulators on development of a policy that fully considers projects like Northern Pass, and . . . [is] confident that given the reliability, low cost, and environmental benefits that this project provides, [it] will be able to develop a structure that is conducive to the development of the project [i.e., eligible for eminent domain].” In other words, Northern Pass doesn’t need eminent domain, but if there’s any new way to finagle it, Northern Pass will try. There’s nothing new in this attitude.
Is HB 648 the “silver bullet” that will stop Northern Pass? No. It was never meant to be. But it will deny Northern Pass as currently structured access to eminent domain. NP’s participant-funded structure approved by FERC will disqualify it from eminent domain in NH. That’s clear. To reinvent itself as eligible for eminent domain and reapply to FERC, as NP is already hinting, might take as much as a year or more and, of course, might never happen at all.
A lot can happen in a year. A lot will happen in a year. For one, the amended bill today creates a study commission to look at the use of state ROWs as energy corridors for buried lines. And the Opposition will not rest. But for tonight, everyone might best pause for a moment and be grateful for the hard work that began over a year ago with the introduction of HB 648 by Rep. Larry Rappaport et al. and concluded today with Sen. Forrester’s skillful performance on the Senate floor. Many people and groups led to the huge success today. Sen. Bragdon singled out for notice the 600-plus emails, a conservative estimate, and countless phone calls the Senate received concerning 648. Many were from us.
The fight continues tomorrow with the Opposition strengthened and energized by the January 15th Balsams triumph and by today’s success in the Senate. 2012 has gotten off to a very promising start! Please take some time to celebrate HB 648. And to say special thanks to Senator Forrester and Rep. Rappaport for leading us to victory.