March 29, 2021 (Augusta, ME) – Three of Maine’s largest conservation groups have moved to add the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to their lawsuit challenging the flawed federal permits that were granted to Central Maine Power (CMP) for its controversial transmission line project.
DOE’s substandard review of the project has come under scrutiny because the Trump Administration rushed to issue a presidential permit just days before President Biden was inaugurated. In doing so, DOE violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act by issuing a flawed Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (EA/FONSI), by failing to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and by failing to comply with NEPA’s public participation requirements. Although it falls within its role and mission, DOE also did not perform an independent analysis of the project’s impacts on greenhouse gas emissions.
Congressman Jared Golden and the Penobscot Nation have called on the Biden Administration to rescind the DOE’s Presidential Permit and EA/FONSI, and go back to the drawing board to conduct a more extensive and transparent environmental review of the controversial CMP corridor.
In their legal filing, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), and Sierra Club Maine say DOE committed a clear error in issuing the presidential permit for the CMP corridor without first allowing for public comment. DOE’s approach to the CMP corridor stands in stark contrast to reviews it conducted for similar projects in Vermont and New Hampshire, where it held multiple public hearings and conducted a much more rigorous and in-depth review.
In October 2020, the three groups filed their original lawsuit in federal court challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to rigorously assess the full impacts of CMP’s transmission line on the woods, waters, and communities of Western Maine. In their legal filing, AMC, NRCM, and Sierra Club Maine said that by choosing not to conduct an EIS as required by NEPA, the Corps had abdicated its responsibility to assess the full impacts of the proposed transmission line, including a new 53-mile corridor that would cut through Maine’s Western Mountains region.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an injunction barring construction on Segment 1 of the CMP corridor while the court considers an appeal filed by the three groups in response to a decision by a lower court to deny their motion for a preliminary injunction. Oral arguments for that case are scheduled for Tuesday March 30.
A lack of transparency has plagued the federal review of the CMP corridor. The groups were only able to obtain a copy of the Corps’ environmental assessment after they submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents related to the Corps’ review. DOE failed to live up to a commitment it made to Senator Susan Collins to release its draft permit and EA for public comment before finalizing them.
The groups are represented in their lawsuit by Earthrise Law Center, the environmental legal clinic of Lewis & Clark Law School.
About CMP’s proposed transmission line:
The CMP corridor is a proposal to net billions in profit for CMP and Hydro-Quebec by constructing a 145-mile transmission line through Maine that would ship existing hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts. It would cut 53 miles of new power line through undeveloped parts of Maine’s forests, forever fragmenting the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America and perhaps the world. The destruction would clear trees and plants through wetlands and across streams, impacting important deer wintering habitat and other areas where public agencies and private citizens have spent millions of dollars to protect habitat for Maine’s brook trout.
Throughout the state and federal reviews of the controversial project, CMP has failed to demonstrate that its corridor would benefit the climate by reducing global carbon pollution, a fact emphasized by the Massachusetts Attorney General in a December 2018 filing.
CMP and Hydro-Quebec have spent a record-breaking $20.6 million to defend their project against widespread opposition from Maine people. To date, 25 towns have voted to oppose or rescind their support. Two of the state’s biggest unions as well as the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine and Franklin County Commissioners have come out in opposition to the project. And a March 2019 poll found that 65% of Mainers oppose the CMP corridor while 90% of Franklin County residents and 83% of Somerset County residents oppose the project.