In their Aug. 18 op-ed (“Commentary: Anti-referendum ruling won’t end baseless anti-corridor arguments”), Richard Barringer and Ellen Pope attacked the Natural Resources Council of Maine for our opposition to the Central Maine Power corridor with a vehemence surprising for them, yet akin to language used by CMP in its ruthless effort to build a project that the majority of Maine people oppose.
The PUC’s and DEP’s approval did not address the irreversible harm the project would cause or prove its climate benefits.
The writers contend that Maine regulators must have gotten it wrong for CMP corridor opponents to be right. We agree. Maine’s regulatory agencies did get it wrong, but there’s still time to overturn their misguided permit decisions.
NRCM’s opposition to the CMP corridor through western Maine forestlands is shared by other leading advocates for Maine’s environment and anchored in the views of many experts.
Over the past six decades, no organization has had more experience working with Maine’s natural resource agencies than NRCM. We helped shape the laws implemented by these government bodies and have testified before them countless times.
We strongly defend the vital role these agencies play in protecting Maine’s environment, but that doesn’t mean we think they always get things right. With the CMP project, also known as the New England Clean Energy Connect, they got things terribly wrong.
NRCM appealed the Department of Environmental Protection permit for the CMP corridor because DEP failed to protect the health of our forests, waters and wildlife, and failed to assess the veracity of CMP’s claim that the project would reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Given the widespread harm this project would have on western Maine forests and brook trout habitat, Mainers deserve to know whether CMP and Hydro-Quebec are telling the truth.
DEP refused to consider climate change impacts when reviewing the project and wouldn’t even accept testimony on the issue. Instead, it simply referred to a study done by London Economics International for the Public Utilities Commission.
But the study is fundamentally flawed because, by its own admission, it did not analyze “the emissions changes in other jurisdictions as a result of NECEC.” LEI did not evaluate the possibility of increased greenhouse-gas emissions if Hydro-Quebec were to shift power from other jurisdictions to Massachusetts to make more money. Yet that’s precisely what the company would do.
As Jean-Gabriel Roumy, an LEI managing consultant and a former Hydro-Quebec employee, told the PUC: “Energy would generally be redirected from other markets to NECEC if it were built.” That’s a textbook case of a shell game.
Regulators in New Hampshire were not so easily fooled. In its review of the Northern Pass, a project very similar to NECEC, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee concluded that the Northern Pass would offer no climate benefits unless new hydropower were built. We know that Hydro-Quebec is building no new dams for this project because it said so in its contract proposal to Massachusetts. Last year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Site Evaluation Committee’s 2018 denial of Northern Pass.
The U.S Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers also have expressed concern over CMP’s failure to provide adequate evidence that the project would have climate benefits, going as far as to coach CMP on how to write its own environmental assessment.
Maine lawmakers attempted to address this critical question in 2019 with a bill requiring an independent study of the climate benefits of the project. Nearly 100 people provided testimony in support of the climate study. Richard Barringer, along with CMP, testified against it.
The bill received widespread bipartisan support before CMP mobilized an army of lobbyists to derail it. Had the bill been enacted, an objective study would have been completed nearly a year ago and we would know whether CMP is playing Mainers as fools.
We agree that the CMP corridor raises complex issues, but we fundamentally disagree that Maine people should blindly accept decisions by state regulators that failed to address the irreversible harm this project would cause or prove the project’s climate benefits. Maine voters should have been allowed to vote to overturn the PUC permit, and the DEP permit should be struck down on appeal.