Including Conservation Community in Exxon Fund Bodes Well for Land Protection
As you may remember, in 2016 the New Hampshire Legislature passed, and Gov. Maggie Hassan signed into law, a bill (SB 380) that established a dedicated Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund. The fund is financed by the proceeds from the State’s lawsuit against the Exxon Mobil Corporation’s liability for the MtBE contamination of groundwater. Currently, there is approximately $276 million in the fund.
SB 380 as originally passed also established the Drinking Water and Groundwater Advisory Commission, made up of four legislators, three members of state government (Treasury, DHHS and the Governor’s designee) and four members of the public including a member to represent municipalities with public water systems. The commission's role was to consult with and advise the Department of Environmental Services (DES) regarding the proper administration and management of the trust fund.
The recently enacted state budget for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 made some interesting and potentially significant changes in how the trust fund will be managed. First and most noteworthy, and in a reversal of roles from the original legislation, the advisory commission will now administer the trust fund with DES providing administrative support. Second, a representative of a state or regional land trust, appointed by the governor, has been added to the commission. This inclusion of the conservation community on what will be a high profile undertaking is important. The Forest Society sees the trust fund as an enormous opportunity to protect our state's critically important drinking water resources through the conservation of our forested landscapes. The studies demonstrating how protecting the land results in cleaner drinking water and lower municipal costs are compelling. Having a seat at the advisory commission’s table gives conservation groups a strong voice to make that case.
Unquestionably, the commission and DES will have a heavy workload to ensure the trust fund meets its mission, including the adoption of the rules that will govern how and where the funds will be used. But we look forward to working with the advisory commission as it works to meet its goals.