Chris Sununu has accepted at least $350,000 from the commercial construction industry and developers, and he has weakened important environmental regulations at his donors’ behest.
In January 2018, Chris Sununu’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee (“Committee”) released its first report to the Governor.
Its centerpiece: legislation to significantly weaken the state’s protections for wetlands—HB 1104. The bill was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Sununu despite the opposition his own Commissioner of the NH Department of Environmental Services.
The changes came at the behest of the commercial construction industry—a major donor to Sununu’s Campaigns. As of today, businesses and individuals in the commercial construction industry have given Sununu almost $250,000.
Chris Sununu called his Committee’s proposal “some of the most comprehensive regulatory reform efforts that New Hampshire has ever seen,” but the proposal was based upon five hours’ worth of meetings by the Committee and a very small number of individuals.
The Committee held one public hearing on October 12, 2017 (2 hours and 20 minutes). It received in-person and written testimony from fourteen (14) individuals—six (6) of whom represented the construction industry. Notice of the meeting appears to have been published only in the New Hampshire House and Senate Calendars two weeks beforehand.
The Steering Committee also held meetings on Nov. 8, 2017 (45 minutes); Jan. 2, 2018 (1 hour and 45 minutes); and Jan. 18, 2018 (53 minutes) before releasing its report. In response to a Right to Know request, the Department of Business and Economic Affairs was only able to produce evidence of notice for the Nov. 8 meeting being published—and then only in the House and Senate Calendars.
So, was HB 1104 developed without much input at all, or just without significant public input?
Sen. Gary Daniels (R-Milford) may have provided the best look into the mindset of the commission at its Jan. 2, 2018 meeting. Daniels, a Commission member, criticized NHDES staff for catering to Conservation Commissions over developers, which he called “the customer.”
Gene Forbes, Director of NHDES’ Water Division was quick to point out that citizens are the customers as well, and they want water and natural resources protected.
So, what does HB 1104 do for Chris Sununu’s “customers” in the construction industry? It places additional burdens on an already understaffed natural resources protection agency, further limiting its ability to enforce wetlands protection law. HB 1104:
- Reduces statutory timelines for Dredge and Fill and Alteration of Terrain permits by 33%.
- Requires that a permit be automatically granted to an applicant whenever an agency fails to take action within a statutory timeframe.
- Privatizes some of New Hampshire’s natural resource protection, by creating a “Certified Preparer Program.” Under the program:
– NHDES will be required to certify professionals such as professional engineers, licensed land surveyors, septic system designers, soil scientists, and other professionals who meet.
– NHDES will not be allowed to require technical review of applications for certain “minimum impact” projects submitted by certified application preparers.
– NHDES must issue a permit to a certified application preparer within 10 days.
The new changes–with no additional agency resources to help NHDES meet tighter deadlines–may result in developers getting default permits for projects that might not otherwise be approved. That doesn’t encourage better performance by NHDES–it just punishes local communities and residents who will lose important natural resources. Additionally, the hastily prepared changes to existing law may also cause problems with NHDES’ administration of certain permitting programs in conjunction with the federal Army Corps of Engineers.  Even before these new burdens, NHDES’ limited enforcement resources only allowed the Wetlands Bureau to monitor compliance with less than one percent (1%) of wetlands permit recipients and the Alteration of Terrain Bureau to inspect five percent (5%) of all construction sites for compliance with environmental laws. 
 See Meeting Minutes, Governor’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, Feb. 14, 2018, p. 3, available here (“Rep. Leishman… said the Democratic caucus received a letter from Environmental Services Commissioner Bob Scott, who said he was fiercely opposed to the dredge-and-fill changes.”)
 See Report to the Governor, Governor’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, Jan. 18, 2018, Exhibit D (Aggregate Written Testimony Submitted for 10/12/17 Public Hearing, including Wetlands Recommendations for DES from the Associated General Contractors of New Hampshire), and see Meeting Minutes, Governor’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, Oct. 12, 2017, p. 4, available here.
 See Meeting Minutes, Governor’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, Oct. 12, 2017 (Called to order at 10:05 a.m. and adjourned at 12:25 p.m.), Meeting Minutes, Governor’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, Nov. 8, 2017 (Called to order at 2:45 p.m. and adjourned at 3:30 p.m.), Meeting Minutes, Governor’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, Jan. 2, 2018 (Called to order at 1:40 p.m. and adjourned at 3:27 p.m.), Meeting Minutes, Governor’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, Jan. 18, 2018 (Called to order at 4:04 p.m. and adjourned at 4:57 p.m.) available here.
 See Minority Report, House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee, House Calendar, Feb. 2, 2018, p.25, available here. The Report said the bill “sets significantly
shorter time limits on the Department of Environmental Services for its review and action on permitting for developments affecting wetlands and water quality. As introduced, it was in such a preliminary form that an amendment was immediately presented at the hearing to replace the whole bill. It was obvious that the original bill set unreasonable and unattainable conditions for agency performance of its functions. The committee never had a subcommittee to fully review, analyze, or discuss the original flawed bill. The final 11-page amendment was presented to the committee at its executive session. It is the bipartisan opinion of the committee that any effort such as this to streamline and increase the efficiency of state agencies is beneficial. The permits that are addressed in this bill are important to sustaining a positive environment for both current and potential businesses in NH. However, greater study is needed of how to improve permitting for the heavy volume of complex development projects done by the agency with its very limited resources. A simple cut of permit time frames will have far-reaching negative consequences, including more denials of permits, costly appeals, and inadequate performance of the environmental protection responsibilities that the legislature has given the agency…”
And See Minority Report, House Executive Departments and Administration Committee, Mar. 16, 2018, p. 18, available here. The Report said the bill “has had two rewrites and still there are major issues with it. The minority believes the bill is being rushed, is not well thought out, and sets unreasonable and unattainable conditions for agencies to perform their functions…”
See Also Minutes of Hearing on HB1104, Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee, Apr. 4, 2018, available here (NHDES did not support the timeline reductions that ultimately passed as part of HB1104).
 See Agency Budget Submission, 2018-19, Department of Administrative Services, p. 2523-26 (NHDES Water Division Goals and Performance Measures. Wetlands Bureau at 2523-24. Alteration of Terrain Program at 2526.), available here.