While corridor proponents raise the specter of retroactivity, opponents note that is not a change to Maine law. The real issue, corridor opponents argue, is the 53-mile area to be cut through a globally significant forest.
Citizens throughout the state will decide at the polls Nov. 2 where they stand on building a 145-mile transmission corridor to bring hydroelectric power from Canada to rate-payers in Massachusetts.
The project will leave a 53-mile scar, bisecting the last intact globally significant temperate forest east of the Mississippi, according to Sandi Howard, director of “No CMP Corridor,” a group fighting the project. She is also a Maine Guide and added that this forest is a last stronghold for brook trout.
A “No” vote supports allowing the construction of the corridor project.
In addition, while advocates of the corridor argue this is clean energy, she says the project will actually suppress solar development and biomass operations, because the type of transmission lines being put in place will not allow solar to hook into the grid. The poles being planned for this project are more than 100 feet tall, so they will tower over the forest canopy, she said.
On the other side of the issue, Adrienne Bennett, spokesperson for “Mainers for Fair Laws” argues, “This project has been thoroughly researched and approved by more than a dozen different agencies and departments. Additionally, the environmental concerns have largely been addressed.”
The question that will come before the voters is: “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?”
A “Yes” vote supports a ban on the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines and would require the state Legislature to approve such projects through a two-thirds majority vote.
Vote “yes” folks, however, argue this question is only asking the developers to jump through the proper hoops already mandated by Maine’s constitution. The retroactivity argument relies on the belief that this was properly and legally approved in the first place.
Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, said he will be voting “yes” to support the ban on the project.
“State park land, public lots or other real estate held by the State for conservation or recreation… may not be reduced or its uses substantially altered except on the vote of 2/3 of all the members elected to each House,” he said.
“However, two executive branches, once under LePage, and once under Mills, have refused to get this constitutionally mandated approval from the Legislature. We must make it even clearer, once again, that the Legislature is not to be worked around. We are an equal branch of government that cannot be ignored.”
Howard argues it is not a matter of creating a new law through this question or even a new precedent. She said the Legislature this session made a declaration that this was an alteration of the use of public lands. In addition, she argues Maine law already allows for retroactive legislation.
Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz wrote Sept. 16 that the proponents of the corridor were trying to distract from the real issue by creating the retroactivity “bogeyman.”
“If CMP and [New England Clean Energy Connect] thought this project could stand on its own merits, they’d be saying so right now,” he wrote. “Instead, they’re working overtime to erase it from voters’ minds and replace it with a newfound – and entirely disingenuous – fear of ‘retroactivity.’”
Bennett disagrees, arguing that a “no” vote sends a message to government that retroactive laws are not wanted in Maine. She called the question “complicated and convoluted.”
“This retroactive measure could open the door for individuals and businesses to be penalized one day for adhering to the rules of a permitting or regulatory process and to successfully and lawfully obtain a permit only to have it yanked away in the future for any reason deemed by the government,” she said.
“Maine businesses and property owners rely on understanding the current laws and rules when considering investing in our state. If you take that predictability and process away, then our business climate will further decline.”
Asked about benefits to Mainers, she said, “The fact is Mainers have already begun to benefit. $258M will be shared throughout Maine and $9M has been provided to communities already. This money will help stimulate our economy and be felt through a large number of small towns, schools and businesses. Additionally, the opportunity to connect our rural communities to reliable broadband is something we ought to be supporting not pushing away.”
State Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, said, “I will be voting yes on Question 1. Sitting on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, we’ve had a front row seat to the lack of Legislative oversight on public lands. The people of Maine pay the consequences for this lack of accountability.”
Proponents of the corridor project argue also that fossil fuel companies have joined in the fight for a “yes” on one vote. Voters are then presented with a choice between supporting something wanted by CMP with its foreign owners and Hydro-Quebec, or supporting something wanted by out-of-state energy firms.
“Millions of dollars of misinformation from the fossil fuel industry has been sent out to Maine voters about this measure, but the ballot question speaks for itself,” Bennett said. “This retroactive law could set the precedent for Mainers and businesses to be targeted in the future.”
Howard acknowledged support from out-of-state energy companies. Those include Calpine Corp., NextEra Energy Resources LLC and Vistra Energy Corp. She said the effort mostly was a grassroots group of Mainers, but added that in a “David-and-Goliath situation,” they have to welcome what help they can get. She said Maine environmentalists and these companies may not be on the same side next time.
“I do not believe that any corporations like fossil fuel companies or foreign owned corporations like Hydro-Quebec have the best interests of the people or Maine at heart,” said Pluecker.
“We should exclude their voice when we deliberate the language of our constitution, but our laws do not currently allow that. I believe this is a question of how we wish to be governed, the balance of power between governmental powers, and how we want our constitution written, not a question solely concerned with the current question of the CMP corridor.”
Editor’s note: In addition, we plan to have a video interview on Knox.VillageSoup.com later this week or early next week with Sandi Howard, the director of “No CMP Corridor.”