The federal government’s cursory and closeted review of the Central Maine Power corridor should worry every Mainer. In addition to overlooking harmful impacts this project would have on the woods, waters and recreational economy of western Maine, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy are attempting to circumvent Mainers’ fundamental right to comment on a proposal that would have major impacts on the health of Maine’s communities and natural environment.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Energy have abdicated their responsibility, though they gave due scrutiny to similar projects in New Hampshire and Vermont.
The National Environmental Policy Act is a foundational environmental law that ensures that agencies fully evaluate projects’ impacts on land, air, water and wildlife and provide robust opportunities for public comment. It was disappointing but not surprising that the Corps ignored the legal requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to do an environmental impact statement, a detailed study necessary for a project with significant impacts on the natural environment. Instead, the Corps completed a far less demanding review called an environmental assessment.
Through documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, we know that the Corps conducted its review behind closed doors and in close coordination with CMP. It allowed CMP to draft its own environmental assessment and even coached CMP on how to make it more marketable. Then the Corps impermissibly narrowed the scope of its review in a way that allowed the agency to ignore many of the significant environmental impacts of the project, such as forest and habitat fragmentation. The Corps finalized the environmental assessment and project permit with no public notice or opportunity for public comment. A copy of the permit still isn’t available on the Corps’ website.
What was surprising was DOE’s recent decision to follow in the Corps’ footsteps, rushing to permit the CMP corridor without the thorough review the law requires – an environmental impact statement – right before the start of a new presidential administration. Just days before CMP was to begin clearing the power line, DOE issued its permit and final environmental assessment for the project with no public notice. DOE failed to live up to its commitment, made in a letter to Sen. Susan Collins, that it would provide the public with a 30-day comment period before finalizing its review. It also failed to follow its own regulations requiring that an environmental assessment be provided to stakeholders. This is a 180-degree shift from how DOE evaluated similar border-crossing hydropower transmission lines in Vermont and New Hampshire. In both Vermont and New Hampshire, DOE conducted a thorough environmental impact statement, and citizens had an opportunity to comment on the draft environmental impact statement. Maine’s environment and people deserve the same thorough analysis on the CMP corridor that DOE provided for similar proposals in Vermont and New Hampshire.
We have strong laws in place to protect the health of people and the environment. The federal government should not ignore those laws. The way the Corps and DOE conducted the review of the CMP transmission line violates the principles of transparency and accountability that the government should live by. Mainers deserve better.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John D. Judge is president of the Appalachian Mountain Club; Lisa Pohlmann is CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Sarah Leighton is chapter director of Sierra Club Maine.