Governor's panel on regulatory reform holds first meeting

A committee aimed at making New Hampshire more business friendly heard about burdensome regulations affecting ski areas, builders, bagpipe makers and more on Thursday.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who called New Hampshire a "regulatory police state" during his campaign, appointed a regulatory reform steering committee last month to conduct in-depth reviews of state regulations and recommend changes.

Though critics note that the state already has a committee tasked with reviewing regulations and call Sununu's efforts a political stunt, he told the committee Thursday that it's time to "clear out the gunk" and return the state to its "Live Free or Die" foundation.

"There is no rule too small we should not be willing to go after," he said at the committee's first meeting. "Some things we deal with are really big — health care education — but there's no issue too small either because we are a state built on small business."

Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association, said several studies have ranked New Hampshire's regulatory climate as worse than most other states. He provided the committee with several pages of examples of regulations with which his organization disagrees, ranging from record-keeping requirements that don't take into account that many employers use electronic systems rather than paper to rules that classify used oil as hazardous waste.

More broadly, he said the high cost of energy is a top concern for manufacturers, and said the current process for evaluating power projects should be fixed.

"You can't just put up a new power plant, you can't bring a new source of energy into the state without going through regulatory process," he said. "We ought to be looking at the possibility of streamlining that process because delays and hurdles mean each project is much more expensive, and it's frankly part of the strategy to kill projects."

Similarly, Ari Pollack, a lobbyist for the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire, said his clients often are frustrated by drawn-out timelines for approving projects and a lack of predictability. That discourages companies from moving into the state or staying, he said.

Ski areas, however, don't have the option of moving away, noted Jessica Keeler, director of Ski NH, which represents 33 alpine and cross country resorts. She said ski areas object not so much to the regulations themselves, but what they see as inconsistent application or overreach.

For example, one ski area was required to install a $100,000 water monitoring system that went well beyond what the rules specify, she said.

Rich Spaulding, operations manager at Gibson Bagpipes in Nashua, told the group he is struggling not with state regulations but international regulations regarding the wood his company uses to make its products. Even if he obtains the necessary federal permit, he said he'd have to drive to New York to have the products inspected before shipping them out of the country.

Committee members said they would look into having the state handle the inspections instead.