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Presidential candidates talk Northern Pass

July 01, 2011
NORTH COUNTRY—The presidential race is starting to gain momentum, and with it comes more focus on the Granite State and its issues. At the forefront of many New Hampshirites' minds in this race is the Northern Pass project, and presidential candidates are beginning to weigh in on the issue.

Just a few weeks ago, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Ron Paul offered their general opinions on energy independence and the role of eminent domain, making some references to Northern Pass, during a televised debate hosted by CNN and WMUR at St. Anselm's College in Manchester. The project, a joint venture by Hydro-Quebec, NSTAR, and Northeast Utilities (the parent company of Public Services of New Hampshire) is hugely unpopular, particularly in northern New Hampshire where new rights-of-way would have to be created.

"Here in New Hampshire, there is a popular bill that is being considered by our state legislature that would restrict the state's power to seize public land for the use of a power plant or transmission facility," said Union Leader reporter John Distaso, referring to House Bill 648, which would prevent for-profit utilities from seizing private land by eminent domain. This would, in theory, prevent the Northern Pass project from putting a 180-mile transmission line of 90 to 135-foot towers through New Hampshire to funnel hydropower down from Quebec to southern New England.

"Should governments, at any level, be able to use eminent domain for major projects that will reduce America's dependence on foreign oil?" asked Distaso, specifically to Paul and Romney.

Paul's short and definitive answer to Distaso's question was "no."

"We shouldn't have that power given to the government where they can take private land and transfer it to a private industry," said the Texas Congressman and former Libertarian presidential candidate.

Paul said that eminent domain laws – both at the national and state levels – were not put into place to take land from private owners and give it to a corporation, regardless of how it may or may not help a locality.

"Property in free society should be owned by the people and it shouldn't be regulated to death by the governments – whether it's Washington, D.C. or local governments," said Paul. "Right now, we really don't own our land. We just pay rent on our land and we listen to all these regulations, so I would say the courts should get out of the way, too. They should not have this right to take land from individuals to provide privileges to another group."

Distaso rephrased the question for Romney, a New Hampshire property owner and advocate for energy independence.

"There are a lot of people in this state who are concerned about this project, but they also want to have energy independence," said Distaso. "How do you feel about that?"

Romney agreed with Paul in that land should only by taken by the government for public, not private purpose, such as for the use of a road or highway.

"The right answer for us to have energy independence, is to start developing our own energy in this country, and we're not doing that," said Romney, who served as governor or Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

Romney suggested the development of many energy sources: drilling for oil, natural gas, clean coal, nuclear power, and harnessing renewable energy.

"It's time to have a president who finally cares about getting America on track for energy security," said Romney.

The entire Republican presidential debate is available for viewing on youtube.com.

Presidential hopeful Andy Martin also came out solidly against the Northern Pass in a motion/petition to intervene sent to the Department of Energy (DOE) this month. Martin, a perennial candidate for Congressional office, is best known for starting the false rumors that President Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim.

In the motion, Martin calls himself the "first and only presidential candidate who is actually opposing this project and who has personally studied the issues and focused energy on participation in the proceedings." His opposition to the project is primarily for national security reasons.

"I favor energy independence, hardly an original position," writes Martin. "But taking power from Canada is a potentially risky matter. Canada has somewhat lax standards for immigration, and is much more receptive to Muslim immigration. As a result, Canada is and/or could become an increased target of Al Qaeda infiltration."

Martin also cites environmental, fiscal, and public health reasons for his opposition. In the statement, he said he spent a significant amount of time in New Hampshire while growing up, as his mother is a native, and the project threatens "New Hampshire's values of clean air, clean water, low taxes, and limited government."

In the statement to the DOE, Martin briefly addresses the Presidential Permit approval process through which the project is currently undergoing.

"There is already significant lobbying and influence peddling affecting the process of Northern Pass approval," he wrote.

The DOE extended the public comment period on the Northern Pass' application for a Presidential Permit, which is required for all projects crossing international borders. The period was set to end June 14, but was extended in anticipation of Northern Pass filing new routes for the project. The comment period came after a series of seven scoping meetings in March, during which residents spoke almost exclusively against the project, save for in Franklin, where a proposed converter station could bring millions of dollars to the community.

"We acknowledged in a filing in April that we will work to identify a route in that area that has support of property owners," wrote Northern Pass in its online project journal on June 15. "The scoping period extension allows us to continue that work."

The new route being identified will be from Groveton to the Canadian border.

The DOE is working towards creating an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Once the comment period is finished (the DOE said it will last at least 45 days), the draft EIS will take several months to put together. Following, will be a second public commenting period, including further public hearings. The final EIS will respond to all comments made on the draft EIS. Prior to the anticipated proposal of a new route and the extension of the comment period, the estimated completion date of the EIS was April 2012. Once the EIS is completed, the project will go before the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.

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