Op-Ed: Republicans deserve credit for environmental efforts

As a proud member of Republicans for Environmental Protection for several years, I was disappointed a few weeks ago to read the Concord Monitor’s opinion on what the New Hampshire House of Representatives has done with regard to environmental issues (“End the war on the state’s environment,” editorial, April 17).

Like all areas of state government, the budget passed by the House will have an effect on programs that protect New Hampshire’s environment. It is no secret that these are challenging times, and lawmakers are faced with tough choices. House and Senate budget-writers have been working with state agencies in order to reduce the overall impact of cuts to the natural resource agencies of our state.

For too long, the conservation of our natural resources has been perceived as a Democratic issue. Unfortunately, too often Republicans have gone along with this storyline – hardly mentioning or defending our party’s past, and current, leadership on environmental issues. We know that Granite Staters of all political persuasions value clean air, clean water and the numerous outdoor recreational opportunities that our state provides in abundance. Now is time for Republicans to show that we share these values and will work to protect them.

Recently the House, with wide bipartisan support, approved reforms to the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act that will continue to improve the water quality in our state but will simplify much of the paperwork and red tape faced by landowners under the current law. It will also ensure that we continue to prevent erosion of shoreland, which contains contaminants, thus protecting fish and other wildlife. The reform of this legislation was a shining example of where the needs of protecting the environment and landowners rights meet. The bill also shows that bipartisanship and cooperation among usually opposed interest groups, such as the New Hampshire Lakes Association and Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire, can bring real results.

Focus on parks

House Republicans were concerned by recent news reports detailing the sad shape of many of our state parks. Decades of deferred maintenance and inadequate budgets have left the park system in need of drastic investments in infrastructure improvements. New Hampshire cannot allow these important state assets to deteriorate – they not only are a significant economic engine as a draw for tourists but also contain invaluable scenic, environmental and historic properties that define New Hampshire.

While the Legislature is not in a position to immediately solve all the needs of the park system, we have taken an important step by investing in its most urgent needs.

In this year’s capital budget, the House provided $1.5 million for repairs and maintenance of existing state park buildings. The House increased this line item over Gov. John Lynch’s proposal because we recognized the immediate need to make investments in some deteriorating structures. While we know that this one-time investment will not fix all the infrastructure problems, it is a first step in transforming the system to one that meets the goals laid out in the state park strategic plan.

Protected rivers

This session, the House led the effort to designate additional large segments of the Exeter, Squamscott, Oyster, Lamprey, Mascoma, North Branch, Pawtuckaway, North, Little, and Piscassic rivers as protected rivers. These rivers have provided a home for a variety of plants and wildlife, served as recreation areas, and graced our state with their scenic beauty. We are proud that we have ensured that these treasured rivers will be protected, and we hope, moving forward, to provide additional funding to those entities that oversee the protection of our state’s protected rivers.

Nearly every environmental organization in the state has expressed genuine concern over the Northern Pass project and its potentially harmful effects to private landowners, wildlife habitat, forest lands, tourism, scenic beauty and New Hampshire’s ability to foster a local renewable energy economy.

The House listened to these concerns and, by an overwhelming margin, approved legislation blocking private utility companies from taking private land by eminent domain unless deemed necessary for overall system reliability. By ensuring private land – including land set aside with conservation easements – cannot be seized for projects that are not in the public interest, we have set a high hurdle for projects that jeopardize New Hampshire’s quality of life for the benefit of privately held companies

These are just some of the initiatives we have undertaken since the 2010 election. As House Republican leader I will work to ensure that we keep a clear focus on conservation issues. We know New Hampshire’s environment is directly responsible for our quality of life, drives our economy and makes our state special and unique.

It is my hope that we can continue to enhance our commitment to preserving the natural beauty that we cherish here in New Hampshire. After all, it was President Teddy Roosevelt, who many consider to be the founder of the conservation movement, whose tremendous legacy Republicans must continue to carry forward.

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