Gov. Chris Sununu meets with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard in Montreal, on March 20, 2017

Mar 20, 2017 4:27 PM

On trip to Canada, Sununu says Northern Pass 'has to happen'; urges updates for NAFTA


CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu says the much-debated Northern Pass hydro-electric transmission lines need to be “completed as soon as possible.”

In a trip to Canada, New Hampshire’s governor New Hampshire’s governor also urged that the more than two-decade old North American Free Trade Agreement be “updated and refined.”

And discussing the environment, Sununu said “I’m very encouraged about what has been proposed by the EPA.”

Sununu made his comments Monday in a joint-news conference in Montreal with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. The 24-hour trip to Canada, which the governor’s office highlighted as part of Sununu’s message that the Granite State is “open for business,” is Sununu’s first visit outside the U.S. since taking over at the beginning of the year in the Corner Office.

The state’s first GOP governor in a dozen years has long been a supporter of Northern Pass, telling NH1 News days after announcing his gubernatorial bid in September 2015 that the project should “absolutely be on the table.”

He was the biggest supporter of the proposed transmission lines among the seven major Democrat and Republican candidates for governor in last year’s campaign.

The lines are projected to bring 1,090 megawatts of power from Canada into the New England energy grid, which is enough to power some one million homes. The projected lines would run down through New Hampshire, which opponents argue will scar the state’s natural beauty. Those opposed to the lines also question the claims that the project will reduce energy costs for Granite Staters.

Proponents of the project say it’s critical for lowering energy prices in a state know for high costs. Eversource Energy is partnering with HydroQuebec on the New Hampshire portion of the project.

At Monday’s news conference, Sununu touted that Northern Pass is “a win, win, on both sides. It’s a project that I always said should happen, could happen, and I believe has to happen. Now there is a process and we will continue to go through that process. Our site evaluation committee will make a determination this fall.”

“I’m proud to stand here and say we’ve been as much of a promote of the project as we can be and we will continue to do so, so people understand that at the end of the day it’s about lowering energy prices and building certainty into the businesses that are going to be growing and coming into New Hampshire. That’s the utmost responsibility of a governor. I take it very seriously,” Sununu added.

Asked how soon he’d like to see the lines completed, the governor joked “I’d shoot for tomorrow if I could. I think we need to get this project done and completed as soon as possible.”

Northern Pass has been in the political spotlight for years. Originally only 8 of the 192 miles of the project were buried, but that was increased to 60 miles after much push-back from opponents.

“I’m very encouraged by the folks at Hydro Quebec and Eversource … they listened,” Sununu said. “They really did listen and they changed their plans” based on that public opinion,” he added.

Sununu on NAFTA: ‘I hope we’re not just going to throw it out’

President Donald Trump has begun moves to renegotiate NAFTA, which he’s called the “worst trade deal ever approved in this country.”

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau disagrees, saying the agreement’s led to a lot of great jobs on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

Sununu said it’s time for changes to the 1994 treaty.

“This was an agreement that was designed well before so many of the technologies that we deal with today,” Sununu said. “So any agreement over time has to be updated and refined and it’s not just in technologies, it’s in a variety of other areas that we can look at.”

But the governor didn’t give many specifics on areas he would change, other than saying “there’s just a lot of holes in it. It just needs to be updated and revised.”

While he wants to revise NAFTA, Sununu was clear the treaty is needed.

“It’s an important agreement to be sure. I hope we’re not just going to throw it out,” he emphasized.

And he said he puts a lot of faith in the President, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, when it comes to renegotiating the trade deal.

“These are folks who understand international deals. They understand international agreements. They understand the pushes and pulls of how to get these things done the right way. They put results first over politics,” Sununu said.

Sununu ‘very encouraged’ by EPA proposals

Sununu also highlighted his environmental credentials. And he mentioned a meeting he had last month with new Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, who’s faced heavy criticism from environmentalists for his views on climate change.

Sununu said that “I sat down with the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. We had breakfast about a month ago. We talked about a variety of different issues. I’m very encouraged about what has been proposed by the EPA. They’re going to have some budget cuts but they’ve very committed to making sure a lot of the state grants remain in place. I think they’re just taking a common sense approach. It’s a change to be sure.”

Sununu was accompanied on his visit to Quebec by staff from the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), as well as Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who represents the state’s North Country.

Discussing the long relationship between the Granite State and Quebec, Sununu said “we want to highlight that past, highlight that rich history, but also take that and decide where we want to go in the future.”

“There’s so much we can learn from each other and so many doors and opportunities that we can open for one another,” he added.

Monday evening Sununu and Kenney were scheduled to attend a reception at the Montreal residence of the U.S. Consulate General in Quebec.

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