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N.H.'s Hassan Expected To Be a Voice' on Environment

Source: Environment & Energy Daily

N.H.'s Hassan Expected To Be a Voice' on Environment

As New Hampshire governor, Democrat Maggie Hassan — who was sworn in as the Granite State's newest senator last week — visited an affordable housing community hard-hit by a storm that had dumped nearly 2 inches of rain in less than an hour.

Hassan recalls speaking with a woman there who told her she had lost her home in a mudslide caused by the storm and was now scared by the sound of raindrops on her roof. That brief exchange hammered home to Hassan the real-world consequences of extreme weather patterns caused by global warming.

"Climate change really impacts people's lives, and they understand it's a real thing," said Hassan, recounting the story on the campaign trail this fall.

Hassan, 58, who just completed her second term as governor, is coming to Capitol Hill after narrowly defeating first-term Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in 2016's closest Senate contest.

Hassan's approach on climate change is an example of how the moderate Democrat often sought to frame energy and environmental policies in pragmatic and human terms during her tenure as a popular governor and three terms as state senator. It also suggests the approach she'll bring to the Senate, where she's expected to be a defender of existing environmental protections and proponent of reducing the nation's reliance on fossil fuels.

"As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels and fossil fuels from overseas, that puts us at a disadvantage internationally and in terms of our own security," Hassan said at a candidate forum in Manchester last fall. "We obviously need to become less dependent on oil from overseas ... but we do not need to wean ourselves off [all] fossil fuels."

Hassan landed seats on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Joint Economic committees — panels not usually at the forefront of energy or environmental lawmaking. But she could enter the fray on those issues as those panels address broader polices related to the economy, health or science.

Former New Hampshire Rep. Charlie Bass (R), an Ayotte supporter, said he expects Hassan to follow in the state's long, bipartisan tradition of backing environmental protections.

"I think Hassan will reflect a state political culture that is very moderate, and on environmental issues, she'll be in favor of some sort of climate plan and would support wind energy and other renewables," said Bass, a former Energy and Commerce Committee member.

Hassan's centrist record

As governor, Hassan backed expanded renewables to drive down state consumer heating prices, which are among the highest nationally.

She also backed conservation measures to protect small businesses and rural communities reliant on the state's tourism industry. And she created a task force to study whether environmental factors were behind a childhood cancer cluster along the state's seacoast.

"From my standpoint, Maggie has a good and long record" on environmental issues, said Mark Zankel, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy's New Hampshire office. "I expect her to continue to be a voice on those issues."

As a state senator, Hassan authored legislation in 2008 to have the state join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a voluntary cap-and-trade program among nine Northeast states aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and another bill to set the state's first renewable standard.

She expanded those efforts as governor by updating the state's 10-year energy plan and adopting strong efficiency and renewable standards for state agencies.

When environmental groups criticized Hassan, it was over her not taking a hard enough line against proposed energy developments in the state, which she saw as offering some economic benefits.

Greens say she was slow to oppose a natural gas pipeline that was slated to run through several towns in the state's southern tier. She did eventually oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and the project was scrapped.

Critics also say she did not heed environmentalists' calls for burying the proposed 180-mile Northern Pass transmission line, which would carry hydropower from Canada to a power grid in the state. She only backed covering the parts of it running near or through the state's White Mountains.

Hassan showed a willingness to take on the fossil fuel industry by backing the state's first increase in gas taxes since 1991. The increase, which raised the state's tax by 4 cents to 22 cents, has allowed New Hampshire to pursue millions of dollars in overdue infrastructure upgrades.

A Shaheen ally

Almost 20 years ago, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), then the Granite State's governor, gave Hassan her start in politics by appointing her as a citizen adviser to a state education committee. The duo are now the nation's first and second former female governors to serve in the Senate.

A labor and employment attorney in Massachusetts, Hassan moved to New Hampshire in the 1990s after her husband, Tom Hassan, landed an administrative post at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, where he retired as principal in 2015.

She said ensuring her son born with cerebral palsy would get a good education got her interested in public service and landed the appointment from Shaheen. (She also has an adult daughter.)

Her political and public service roots, however, go back farther than that state panel.

Her father, Robert Coldwell Wood, a political scientist, served as an undersecretary for President Lyndon Johnson's Department of Housing and Urban Development before becoming president of the University of Massachusetts. Her mother headed the local chapter of a Boston-area League of Women Voters.

Hassan failed in her first run for Senate in 2002 but then served three terms as a state senator beginning in 2004, including a stint as majority leader. After losing her Senate seat in a GOP wave in 2010, Hassan came back and won the first of her two two-year terms as governor in 2012.

After being re-elected in 2014, Hassan was heavily courted by national Democrats to run in 2016 against Ayotte, who was seen as a rising political star. In a campaign that shattered state records for spending, Hassan won by fewer than 1,000 votes out of more than 700,000 votes cast.

Both candidates touted moderate credentials to appeal to the state's famously independent electorate. But the election may have turned on Ayotte's refusal to vote for Donald Trump as president — a move that angered conservatives.

Terry Shumaker, a longtime New Hampshire political operative and former ambassador to Trinidad under President Clinton, said Shaheen is certain to be a "strong model" for Hassan in the Senate. He said both women can be "disagreeable without being disagreeable" and have reputations for being cautious politicians.

"I suspect Maggie will be a lot like Jeanne Shaheen and [former New York Sen.] Hillary Clinton in that she will do the work and you won't hear a lot of noise from her," he added.