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DES nominee takes no position on Northern Pass

State House Bureau

June 16. 2017 12:54AM


CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to lead the state Department of Environmental Services told executive councilors he has no position on the Northern Pass hydroelectric project, although he thinks new sources of energy are needed in New England.

Robert Scott, currently one of three commissioners on the Public Utilities Commission, was questioned about his qualifications and philosophy at a public hearing on Thursday on his nomination to be the next commissioner of DES.

Councilors are expected to vote on the nomination when they meet next Wednesday.

When asked by North Country Councilor Joe Kenney if he had a position on the Northern Pass, Scott replied, “To be blunt, I don’t.”

“I feel holistically there is a value to getting some more power in the region, but whether that’s the right project remains to be seen,” he said. “There are a huge amount of moving parts.”

Scott said he was not assigned to the Site Evaluation Committee now considering the Northern Pass proposal, and so is not privy to all the details.

“Not having been in the middle of that, I’m not sure if it’s the best idea or not,” he said.

Longtime Northern Pass opponent Dorothy McPhaul of Sugar Hill, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate last year, urged councilors to reject the nomination.

“I worked for a year with him on rule-making for the Site Evaluation Committee,” she said after the hearing, “and he sided with Eversource attorneys and their lawyers repeatedly, and paid no attention to our concerns as citizen representatives.”

Scott was the presiding officer on the Site Evaluation Committee when it recently approved a controversial wind power project in Antrim.

“With Gov. Sununu supporting the Northern Pass, I’m afraid he is putting Robert Scott in as commissioner of DES to influence the permits that the DES needs to grant, so I just feel it’s another way of supporting Northern Pass,” said McPhaul.

Not all Northern Pass opponents feel the same way. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, one of the leading opposition groups, is not opposing Scott’s nomination.

“The forest society and environmental groups are a little bit different,” McPhaul said. “They feel we could have done worse.”

Scott, a PUC commissioner since 2012, would replace Tom Burack, who served as DES commissioner for a decade.

Sununu’s first nominee to replace Burack, Bedford businessman Peter Kujawski, could not win the necessary support on the Executive Council. Councilors commended Kujawski for his business success, but expressed concern about his lack of experience in environmental protection.

Scott worked for the Department of Environmental Services for more than 17 years. From 2003-2012, he was director of the air resources division. From 2005 to 2010 he served on the Governmental Advisory Committee to the EPA on environmental agreements with Mexico and Canada.

“I am positively inclined toward your nomination,” said Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord. “Your nomination is a good break from prior nominations in that you have qualifications and have worked in this agency and more generally in state government, so I appreciate all of that.”

The council also held a public hearing on the nomination of attorney David Burns of Concord to a vacancy on the state Circuit Court.

A public hearing on the nomination of attorney Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi of Stratham to the state Supreme Court is scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m.

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