Voters can sign a new petition that would give Mainers more say over how public lands are used.
I was extremely disappointed when I heard Maine’s Supreme Court declared No CMP Corridor’s ballot initiative unconstitutional and ordered it removed from November’s ballot. Maine’s secretary of state surmised this decision would save opponents of Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect project from spending money on a referendum question that may have been ruled unconstitutional after the election, but the truth is the party who benefitted from this decision was clearly CMP. Once the referendum was out of play, CMP no longer needed to look for yet one more pretense to file yet one more lawsuit to push through their unpopular project.
These are challenging times and unemployment in Maine remains around 7%, while businesses that have been open for generations are closing their doors due to the impact of COVID-19. In recognition of that, CMP graciously spread the 6.9% rate increase the Maine Public Utilities Commission awarded them this summer to be payable over three years. This increase will help pay for “unavoidable costs incurred in restoring power after two major back-to-back storms” in 2019, according to CMP.
Despite the financial burden those storms placed on CMP, they and their parent company, Avangrid, somehow found enough loose change in their coffers to donate an unprecedented $12,878,140 to their political action committee, Clean Energy Matters, since October 2019. Not to be outdone, Hydro-Quebec, the other party who stands to profit handsomely from this project, donated $8,322,163 to their own PAC.
In Maine the average income is $25,385. Between the two PACs, in their effort to defeat our referendum question, they have managed to spend, each and every day on average, almost $80,000, over three times the annual income of Mainers.
What should be of great concern to all is a lease CMP obtained to cross public land in Somerset County with the NECEC corridor. This project would significantly alter the habitat of lands that are held in trust for our public use. Somehow this lease never went before the Legislature for the required two-thirds majority vote. Earlier this year, the Mills administration renegotiated the lease and was able to obtain a higher annual fee, but better terms hardly negate the fact the lease was obtained illegally in the first place.
To make matters worse, the original lease gave approval for a 300-foot-wide corridor, despite the fact the NECEC project only requires 150 feet. The new lease failed to limit the use of our public lands to this project and still granted CMP a 300-foot corridor. This would provide CMP with enough leeway to bring future transmission projects through an area that would imperil Maine’s thriving brook trout fishery, an important part of an industry that contributes close to $200 million in revenue to our economy each year.
This fall I’ve decided to cast my votes for legislators who have been strong opponents of the project and who support bills that would hold CMP accountable for their overreaching claims about NECEC. This project has the potential to do harm long after legislative terms are up, so please consider postponing judgment on other issues and make this one a key factor in how you vote this year.
CMP has fought tooth and nail to try and ram this project down our throats, but somehow, despite their millions, they’re still losing the battle. It’s unlikely anyone in the state managed to avoid the onslaught of ads and messaging they were able to buy, so it’s notable that barrage has become nonexistent now that CMP and Hydro-Quebec no longer feel there’s a need to change anyone’s opinion.
Public sentiment remains strongly against the project, so a new petition will be circulating that would require legislative approval for any projects that significantly alter public lands — those lands are supposed to be held in trust for all Mainers, not just special interests with deep pockets.
Here are three things you can do to help with the fight.
First, find someone collecting signatures and sign the new petition. Next, contact candidates running for office in your district and ask if they will sign the petition and support the measure once it comes before the Legislature.
Lastly, email firstname.lastname@example.org and volunteer to collect signatures at a nearby polling station.
This fight is not over, and I hope you join me on Nov. 3 as we refuse to let our voices be silenced.
Kate Weatherby lives in New Sharon.