As the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, it is my job to seek out the truth in the pursuit of justice. That’s why I feel it necessary to respond to Michael Cianchette’s Oct. 8 BDN column “Battle over CMP corridor belongs in court, not at the ballot box.” Cianchette’s column mirrors the narrative of the “No on 1” side of Question 1, which includes Central Maine Power. CMP’s narrative, I believe, is designed to confuse the voters and divert attention away from their wildly unpopular corridor that would transmit power from Quebec to Massachusetts.
This destructive project benefits CMP (a company with a terrible reputation for service and reliability), Hydro-Quebec (owned solely by a foreign government) and Massachusetts, whose residents won’t have to live with the infrastructure necessary to meet its energy goals. Meanwhile, Mainers get pennies per month while the Upper Kennebec Region, one of the crown jewels of our state, is destroyed for a project that, I believe, won’t improve reliability or move Maine towards meeting our clean energy goals.
Contrary to CMP’s claim, Question 1 does not target businesses for actions that were legally done in the past. In fact, it achieves just the opposite. In 1993, the people of Maine overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that requires the Bureau of Parks and Land to seek two-thirds legislative approval for uses of some public land that would substantially reduce or alter that land’s uses. Since the overwhelming passage of this amendment, four transmission corridors have been proposed that impact public lands. The first three all sought and received legislative approval. The fourth, CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect project skirted this requirement by calling its crossing of public land a “lease” rather than an easement or a sale.
But the Maine Constitution doesn’t differentiate between sales, leases or easements. Instead, it says: “State park land, public lots or other real estate held by the State for conservation or recreation purposes… may not be reduced or its uses substantially altered except on a vote of ⅔ of all members elected to each House.” It is very clear.
CMP knew of this constitutional language well in advance, but decided to push forward with construction, ahead of the Superior Court decision in the case of Black v. Cutko, in which the awarding of a lease to CMP by the Maine Bureau of Public Lands was challenged by several lawmakers and environmental groups. Even though the justice in that case has vacated their lease, causing a one-mile gap in the route, they are now destroying critical brook trout and deer habitat in western Maine.
CMP and its supporters would have you believe that they’re victims operating in good faith, and that it would be unfair for the people of Maine to step in and require that the Maine Constitution be adhered to. But allowing this project to move forward without requiring a two-thirds affirmative vote in the Legislature sets a terrible precedent for projects to come.
Our laws, and our Constitution, should apply to everyone equally. CMP should not get a pass, and Mainers shouldn’t hesitate to hold them to the same high standards as everyone else.
Further, the claim from No on 1 supporters that it is unconstitutional to pass laws retroactively is patently false. Title 1, Section 302 of Maine statutes gives legislators the ability to apply laws retroactively. In the last 20 years alone, the Legislature has enacted nearly 200 laws that applied retroactively with one dating as far back as 1911. There are countless other examples of retroactive laws that have been upheld by the courts.
For example, in State v L.V.I. Group, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld an amendment to state law that retroactively changed a definition dealing with severance pay liability. In the Town of Kittery, a referendum passed that retroactively enacted zoning changes to prohibit the development of a shopping mall that had already received planning board approval. Again, the Law Court affirmed the ability of the people to enact a referendum retroactively. Almost every time the federal government updates tax laws, states such as Maine then conform to those changes, often retroactively.
In the case of the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor, the Legislature and now a court have both agreed that the Bureau of Parks and Lands issued CMP’s lease in error. More than 80,000 registered Maine voters signed petitions to initiate this referendum to ensure that this project (and future ones) follow our laws and Constitution if they seek to substantially reduce or alter the use of our public lands.
There are three equal branches of government. The Bureau of Parks and Lands left out the Legislature, a co-equal branch, in the process of issuing CMP a lease. Question 1 would right that wrong. So please, join me in voting yes on Question 1. It’s simply the right thing to do.
Maeghan Maloney of Augusta is the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.