Group Sets Up Shop in N.H.

Friday, December 11, 2015
West Lebanon — An environmental advocacy group funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer has established offices in New Hampshire to promote clean energy and energy efficiency, one of several key presidential primary states, including Iowa, Ohio and Florida, where the organization has set up shop.

In a discussion with the Valley News’ editorial board on Thursday, representatives of Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate, said they aim to get presidential candidates to talk about energy and climate issues on the campaign trail.

It’s a conversation the NextGen officials, who set up shop in New Hampshire in February, say has shifted in comparison with previous election seasons — among presidential candidates and members of the public.

“This is not just a partisan issue anymore,” said Mike Padmore, NextGen’s state director for New Hampshire. “I think the price has come down to a point where people are realizing ... if you’re going to put solar on your house you’re not just doing it because you want to be green, you’re doing it because you want to save some money.”

In order to keep the conversation moving forward, NextGen is operating six field offices in New Hampshire and airing issue-based advertisements, which are not in support of specific candidates, according to Wyatt Ronan, NextGen’s New Hampshire press secretary.

Nationally, NextGen spent approximately $70 million in 2014, Ronan said.

Steyer — who founded San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management in 1986 — sold his stake in the company 2012 and founded NextGen in 2013, according to Forbes and NextGen’s website.

Overall, NextGen is pushing for policy commitments necessary to move the country toward a goal of 50 percent clean energy by 2030, at least in part by emphasizing the potential economic benefits of transitioning away from fossil fuels, NextGen Policy Director Udai Rohatgi said.

Such benefits include creating jobs, growing the gross domestic product, increasing disposable income and saving money on energy, Rohatgi said, pointing to a recent study by the consulting firm ICF International.

In contrast to previous election cycles, Rohatgi said, the debate no longer is about the science of climate change, but instead about how to curb carbon emissions.

“You hear a lot about this is too expensive or we don’t know if there should be regulations,” Rohatgi said. “(The candidates) are talking about the different solutions that are being proposed ... and honestly that’s a big step forward.”

During one of eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s visits to the Upper Valley, in August 2011, Etna resident Michael Hillinger quizzed Romney on his stance on global warming and his plans to curb global carbon emissions.

In response, Romney said he believed humans contribute to global warming, but he was not convinced changes in climate are “mostly caused by humans.”

“What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to,” he said at the time.

This summer during an event in West Lebanon, Hillinger — who makes it a priority to quiz candidates on their stances on climate change — began asking Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., whether science would inform Paul’s energy policy should he be elected president. Paul cut Hillinger off.

Paul said the question of the degree to which humans are causing climate change has caused people to become “somewhat hysterical.”

“There’s a balancing act,” he said. “Cars do have emissions and probably aren’t good for the planet. How many people want to banish cars?”

In September, Hillinger had a similar exchange with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in West Lebanon. Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, said he believes humans contribute to global warming, but did not say humans are the primary contributors.

Kasich said he supported renewable energy to curb carbon emissions, “but not to the point where we take such drastic action that I put a bunch of people out of work.”

In particular, Kasich said he supports the continued use of coal as an energy source. Nearly 70 percent of Ohio’s electricity was produced from coal in 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“We should dig it, we should clean it, we should burn it,” he said.

Even if candidates are expressing their opposition to possible clean energy solutions, NextGen officials said, they are encouraged that the dialogue is taking place.

“That’s a big step forward that we’re actually having this debate now,” Padmore said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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